For all that scattered attention, mindwandering, forgetfulness and disorganization there is an even more confusing aspect to ADHD that is often cited as evidence for why the person can’t have it at all. Hyperfocus, the ability to lose time and be completely absorbed by some interesting occupation, and interesting is the crucial word here, seems to suggest that the adhder can pay attention when it suits them.
You see it normally in younger children with anything that involves video games, or games on the phone, in computer gaming, or less common now – tv watching. This has become a real problem for adhders, as ADHD coach Kevin Roberts has written movingly about in his book “CyberJunkie, escaping the internet trap”.
Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., a psychologist in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the author of ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life explains it in ADDitude magazine: “A better way to look at it is that people with ADD have a disregulated attention system. Like distractibility, hyperfocus is thought to result from abnormally low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is particularly active in the brain’s frontal lobes. This dopamine deficiency makes it hard to ‘shift gears’ to take up boring-but-necessary tasks”.
Says Russell Barkley, an expert on ADHD who lost his brother with the condition in a car accident: “If they’re doing something they enjoy or find psychologically rewarding, they’ll tend to persist in this behaviour after others would normally move on to other things. The brains of people with ADD are drawn to activities that give instant feedback.”
Hyperfocus is the reason why many ADHDers go on to be successes in their field, with dogged determination and a persistence when all others have moved on. Willi.am the musician, Michael Phelps the seven-times Gold medal winner and Olympic Swimmer, and the comedian Rory Bremner are all examples of those who have used hyperfocus to push their talents forward. Says Rory Bremner about his own experience with ADHD: “It’s been a blessing for my career in many ways – for example it means I am able to spot analogies and to think laterally in a comedic sense”. His commitment to campaigning is shown in his support for a new adhd foundation in the UK. On the website he writes: “Adhd is a condition whose time has come, and it’s crucial that we do all we can to understand and support people living with it.”