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Hi all! In today’s ADHD series episode, I’m getting deep (hyperfocusing?) on “hyperfocus.” It’s a concept often associated with ADHD, but it’s also poorly understood. Here are a few things that I discuss:
- Definitions of “hyperfocus”
- The relationship between hyperfocus and “flow”
- Hyperfocus in the context of executive functioning
- Pros and cons of hyperfocusing
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About Dr. Jeremy Sharp
I’m a licensed psychologist and Clinical Director at the Colorado Center for Assessment & Counseling, a private practice that I founded in 2009 and have grown to over 20 clinicians. I earned my undergraduate degree in Experimental Psychology from the University of South Carolina before getting my Master’s and PhD in Counseling Psychology from Colorado State University. These days, I specialize in psychological and neuropsychological evaluation with kids and adolescents.
As the host of the Testing Psychologist Podcast, I provide private practice consulting for psychologists and other mental health professionals who want to start or grow psychological testing services in their practices. I live in Fort Collins, Colorado with my wife (also a therapist) and two young kids.
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I would occasionally hear parents talk about hyperfocus in a child with an ADHD diagnosis.
Consider, though, that parents occasionally report that an ADHD-diagnosed child loves to read.
If you see a severe ADHD individual, or even a milder case, reading is out of the question.
What kind of ADHD individual loves to read?
I think that hyperfocus is the same sort of thing.
The idea that it is the other end of some kind of spectrum, reflecting a single disorder, does not appeal to me. That would imply that some other ADHD symptoms might exist on a similar continuum — so that a deeply dyscontrolled individual would also be capable of tremendous control — which is not what we see.
That is, the child may have some symptoms and not others. In the long run, it seems likely that the diagnostic category will be subdivided or otherwise changed as the phenomenon is better understood.
It seems to me that a psychiatrist should be careful about medicating a patient who can hyperfocus (at some point, I’ll have to investigate the psychiatric literature on this point, apologies for not having already done it). My thought is that the diagnostician needs to drill down, deeply, to be absolutely certain s/he understands the behavior of the patient. This requires an extremely detailed behavioral history as well as the usual test results.
My general thought after listening to three pods is that there is a lot of focus on the literature, understandly, but not enough focus on the highly variable way patients actually present.