Bridging the communication gap between high functioning autistics and neurotypicals.

Posts tagged ‘hyperfocus’

Driving While Aspie…

Learning to drive was not easy for me. I took Driver’s Ed in 10th grade in 1984-85. I learned to drive in a city much bigger than Oklahoma City which was not laid out like graph paper (Charlotte, NC). Then, I spent most of my driving years in a city of 5.5 to 6 million people (Atlanta, GA). While taking Driver’s Ed, I found that I scared everyone in the car that rode with me but I didn’t know why. I failed the driving portion of the test the first time I took it. My mom was frustrated and so was I. I didn’t know the reason I failed then. To get me prepared to take the test again, friends of our family would ride with me and give me pointers on my driving. I remember scaring them as well. I would turn left abruptly too close to oncoming traffic. My tutor was white-knuckling it and screaming at the top of their lungs through the turn.

Years later, I was still being told that I was a scary driver. Just a year ago, my sister reminded me that I was always cussing and flipping off other drivers whenever she and I went somewhere together. Recently, my mom told me that I have always been a terrifying driver. She said I was horrible to ride with. Over the twenty years of our marriage, my wife has done most of the driving. Whenever I have had occasion to drive with my wife as passenger, she tends to experience my driving more as a ride in an amusement park, somewhat akin to a roller coaster or a tilt-a-whirl!

The examples above show, as an Aspie, my driving abilities have TERRIFIED those who have ridden with me. But the examples aren’t really the point of this article. The following are reasons why I drive like this.

  1. Aspies have trouble driving because we are not as aware of our surroundings on the roads. A disciplined awareness is necessary in driving to evaluate road conditions and traffic situations. Training Aspie student drivers to be more aware is simple. Have them watch movies of traffic situations or observe actual traffic at an intersection and then explain what they saw. Then ask them how they would deal with each situation. Keep training them until they seem comfortable and satisfactory results have been achieved.
  2. Aspies aren’t very physically coordinated so our motions in driving a car tend to be abrupt and jerky. Getting us to be graceful in our movements just requires an NT driver to observe us and to help us adjust by small degrees. Instead of yanking the steering wheel to make turns, we can be taught to turn the wheel using the hand-over-hand technique.
  3. The Aspie’s single-focused mind can cause overwhelm when required to multitask. Because of this hyperfocus, managing the multiple tasks involved in operating a car can be overwhelming for new driving students. Even at 45, I drive an automatic transmission because it requires less from me, mentally and physically, than a standard transmission. The key is allowing the Aspie to master each of the major functions of driving one at a time and then putting them together into a final product.
  4. There is a lot of fear built up in us because many of us Aspies have a perfectionist streak that will not allow us to make mistakes. To counter the perfectionism and fear of making mistakes, the Aspie driving student must be continually reminded that mistakes are perfectly acceptable. The Aspie driving student can be taken to a large empty parking lot, and with supervision, be allowed to drive at leisure until they are comfortable with the basic operation of the vehicle. Strong emphasis needs to be placed on creating a ‘safety net’ which consists of getting across to the Aspie driving student that ‘mistakes are perfectly acceptable’ and that ‘whatever happens is okay’. Once the ‘safety net’ is in place, the above three factors can be addressed starting with awareness.
  5. Aspies require more time to learn something, especially when that task requires physical/mental multitasking. The more complex a task is, the more our brains analyze it to comprehend the information. This analytical process requires more time than is usually given for mastering something. By breaking down the process into smaller tasks, the Aspie student can easily master each piece of the project.

Even though driving is a complex task for Aspies, following the above guidelines can make the process of learning less stressful and easier to manage.


Hyperfocus and Homework for High Functioning Autistics and Other Non-Neurotypicals

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

Thanks always….