Hyperfixation: Definition, Benefits, Disadvantages and Management
What is Hyperfixation?
As the term suggests, hyperfixation is when someone becomes wholly immersed or fixated on something to the exclusion of everything else.
A person might become hyperfixated on reading, playing a video game, cleaning, or repairing something. In this case, they usually feel unable to step away until the task or chore is “complete.” But people can also become fixated on subject matters or hobbies, talking about them incessantly and neglecting other areas of life.
How Does Hyperfixation Affect Children and Adults with ADHD?
Known as a phenomenon of intense fixation, hyperfixation is also called hyperfocus. Someone may become lost in an activity or an interest and have difficulty setting healthy boundaries or showing up in other areas of their life.
A child might hyperfocus on watching cartoons, building with Legos, or a hobby like fishing or baseball. An adult might hyperfocus on scrolling social media, shopping, or writing a novel.
Whether hyperfixation is stealing the attention of an adult or a child, the outcome is similar. Unless interrupted or hedged by healthy boundaries, these fixations can jeopardize relationships and cause neglect of vital responsibilities.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Hyperfocus
While it might seem like hyperfocus is a purely negative phenomenon, that’s not the case. There are both benefits and perils associated with hyperfixation.
Advantages of Hyperfixiation
Hyperfocus is a complicated aspect of ADHD. It may sound contradictory, as many people assume individuals with ADHD cannot focus intently. But this is a misconception. Hyperfixation is common in people with ADHD and leads to what some call “extreme productivity.”
It can have other benefits as well:
- Get a lot done in a short amount of time
- Complete tasks and projects
- Fully devote attention to an area of interest
- Improve skills through hours of focused effort
- Hyperfocus on relationships, making them stronger
Yes, there are stories of people writing best-selling novels during a single flight and becoming proficient at complex matters over a short period. You can even leverage hyperfocus to improve mental health.But it isn’t all extreme productivity and spotless bathrooms.
Disadvantages of Hyperfixation
Unfortunately, hyperfocus can cause severe issues. Anyone who spends much time with a hyperfixated person knows it can be frustrating to try and lure them back to the pressing matters at hand.
Other disadvantages include:
- Forgetting to do critical things like eating and sleeping
- Focusing on pointless, irrelevant, or inappropriate tasks
- Failing to show up—physically or emotionally—when people need you
- Neglecting important responsibilities and relationships to the point of destroying them
As you can see, hyperfixation can have severe consequences. Being close to someone with hyperfocus is highly challenging, especially when they seem to value something frivolous over essential responsibilities, commitments, and priorities.
How to Manage ADHD Hyperfixation
Like most things in life, hyperfixation can be managed. If you or your child are feeling out of control, there are techniques and tools to help you reign in fixation.
Set boundaries:Before getting immersed in a task or project, decide what might be a reasonable time commitment. Maybe you allow one hour per day for the project and ten minutes per day to discuss how it’s going.
Involve loved ones: Being honest with those in your inner circle can help shatter stigmas and make everyone comfortable addressing these issues. Brainstorm ways of helping the fixated person “break free” when they seem lost in the process.
Redirect attention: Don’t be afraid to set multiple highly visible reminders. These might include alarms, timers, or enlisting someone to help the hyperfocused person break free with an instant message, phone call, or knock on the door.
- Remember that hyperfixation can be a superpower. There are many examples of people who harnessed their focus to complete complex projects, master complicated subjects, or excel at sports.
Anyone can experience hyperfocus. But adults and children with ADHD and autism are especially prone. Setting reminders and boundaries, especially if they are reinforced by friends and family, can be incredibly effective for managing hyperfocus.
When reigned in, hyperfixation can actually be a huge asset that improves skills and enables people to finish large-scale projects. For more ADHD and autism support, check out these sensory toys and tools.