Hyperfocus is a passive form of stress release. It is used by HFAs and other Neuro Non-typicals to deal with emotional stress by escaping from it temporarily. Before you NTs out there start raising a ruckus about escapism, stop and honestly think about how many emotional problems you immediately tackle and you’ll then understand that for us that is our way of dealing with emotional and sensory overload. Why is excessively focusing on a subject a form of escapism? Well, let me tell you. It’s a form of visualization. We focus so intently on a subject we are fond of and then become part of that world in our own minds.
But, hyperfocus is also an altered form of consciousness that allows our brains to process problems or find solutions or express ideas all without the aid of emotional computation. When I first learned that most people solve their problems using emotional cues and solutions, I shook my head in amazement. Mostly, I was amazed because I couldn’t figure out how someone would solve their problems using their emotions. I still don’t understand that and I never will, but that’s ok.
I have had some parents ask why can’t their children ‘hyperfocus’ on their homework in the same way. Firstly, because homework consists of problem after problem. To us HFAs and other Neuro-Non-typicals, that just means stress after stress after stress. Home work problems are as stressful as social interactions, so, series of homework problems push us to retreat into hyperfocusing on our favorite subject, whatever that might be. Why is homework so stressful for us? Our society, and maybe the world, puts a pantload into being right. Being wrong is for losers. HFAs and possibly other Neuro Non-typicals see things in black-and-white only, so, we are set up with a perfectionistic mindset from day one. The added stress of perfectionism along with getting the correct answer to every homework problem turns us into nuclear reactor cores ready to meltdown anytime homework is mentioned.
How can I deal with my child’s reluctance to do homework? As a parent, please realize that the word ‘motivation’ means very little to HFAs and possibly other Neuro-NonTypicals.(Please see Michelle’s note “Words that NTs belive in that mean nothing to an aspie) Motivation is an emotion that most of us (HFAs etc.) are unfamiliar with. Giving your child long-term reasons to be motivated, forget about it. We need gentle, consistent patient support. Sitting down with your child at the outset of a homework session with constant check-ins over the course of the two or three hours of the session and being available to answer questions should contribute to productive sessions. For high schoolers and middle schoolers, staying after school to be in contact with available teachers and/or tutors will relieve much of the anxiety.
I’ve had some ask me if I used to get upset when I was interrupted from a hyperfocused state. The answer is “Yes, I still do”. But, as an adult in my 40s, I now realize that my being upset over an interruption isn’t necessary or helpful. I can remind myself that getting back to what I want to do is never really that far off. Here’s an analogy I used once to explain what an interruption of a hyperfocused state is like for us (HFAs etc.). I explained that, for us, our hyperfocused state is like paradise. Interruptions to that state are akin to being swarmed by cockroaches that no amount of pest control can eradicate. The reaction of the person I was describing this too convinced me that they understood.
If there’s anything that anyone would like to ask me about please post it in a comment below this post, or email me here at firstname.lastname@example.org.