Does Your Child Have a Problem with Hyperfocusing?

Posted October 27, 2010 by

I truly believe  that all children are gifted. Qualities like shooting a basketball into a hoop, being easygoing as well as a myriad of others can be termed “gifted.” But the particular “gift” that my daughter possesses is that her brain processes information very quickly.  She catches on to concepts, facts — you name it — in a heartbeat.  She also reads very rapidly.  One night she finished a book so quickly that I doubted that it was possible.  I proceeded to quiz her on her comprehension and found she was telling the truth.  She just reads fast, way faster than I can even read.  Teachers at school have questioned her when she gets done with a test or quiz quickly.  They tell her to check it over.  She says she has already checked it over 7 times, but they insist that she check it again.  As you can imagine, this is exasperating to her!

I honestly think that her ability to hyperfocus on the text of a book and completely block out the world around her is the way she is able to read and do her work so quickly.  When she is reading,  watching a show or movie, or working on a project, it is very difficult to get her out of this “zone.” At school she has told me that students are allowed to read after they are finished with their work.  As mentioned earlier, she quickly completes her assignment, gets a book and becomes completely engrossed in it.  Then, of course, it is time to move on and the teachers have a hard time getting her attention again.  At the end of last year, she told me that she wasn’t going to start reading after she was done with her work anymore because she was tired of getting in trouble.  She said  that she gets into the book so much that she doesn’t even notice that the rest of the class has moved on to something else!

I also notice at home how agitated she gets when you have to pull her out of this zone.  She usually has an odd look on her face as she comes back to reality and then she gets upset.  I’m really trying to get more in tune with what is going on inside her head and to be more patient about it.  As fellow parents, I’m sure you have had times when you are getting ready to go somewhere and it is tough to pull your kids away from whatever they are engaged in doing.  Well, with my daughter this task is definitely extremely difficult and it usually causes her to have an outburst, which in turn makes me want to outburst!  (I’m thinking about ME…I’m getting everything ready and all the kids have to do is to get in the car!!…you get the picture.)  Well, I am trying so hard to see her point of view now.  It is like being rudely awakened from a great dream that you are having!  No wonder she gets agitated!!

The other big issue that I have had with her ability to hyperfocus pertains to viewing movies.  She is so extremely focused on a movie that she gets completely engrossed with the characters, how they are feeling, etc.   It is like she becomes part of the movie.   So, when it comes to ANYTHING remotely scary my daughter cannot handle it.  For example, we tried to have movie night not long ago and my daughter picked “FernGully: The Last Rainforest”.   So we are watching it and it got to the part where a machine was cutting down a tree and she screamed at the top of her lungs to “TURN IT OFF!!!”   It was completely unbelievable!  We were dumbfounded! I tried to explain to her what was happening, but at that point there was no rationalizing with her.  We had to shut down the movie.  My first reaction was “Good grief, we can’t even have movie night like a normal family even when it is rated G!!”  I was so extremely frustrated.  I was trying to have a nice family evening and it had turned out to be disastrous.  Again, you notice I’m saying “I” a lot in those last sentences.  It can’t be just about me.  So I calmed down and I realized that we really don’t have to watch all of the Disney cartoon movies like the rest of the world.  Many of them have some really terribly violent scenes which don’t seem to faze most children, but they are clearly not for us right now.  I don’t know if she will ever grow out of this, but there is no reason to torture us all with movies that she can’t handle, even if they are rated G.

I notice that when I stay calm and try to understand how she is feeling we can get through these tough times so much easier.  So just stay calm, and take the time to listen to your child.  I have found that most of the time that is all they want in order to calm down.

One of James Lehman quotes is really eye-opening  to me: “Don’t parent the child you wish you had. Parent the child you have.”   It is so true.

Does your child have a problem with hyperfocusing? How do you handle it?


Parent Blogger Amanda Lane is the mother of an 11-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. Amanda has been married for 16 years and works as a Clinical Systems Analyst in the hospital in her rural community. She hopes to give hope and confidence to others as she writes about her journey through parenthood.

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  1. dasdan12345 (Edit) Report

    Super focus is a part of very early mind development as it needs to collect all the information possible of each new situation and create it’s reaction for it. I believe ADHD ADD is a side results of not getting past this stage and staying in hyperfocus mode. This makes it hard to handle all the information of social environments as calm focus filters out unecessary background, etc, information. This could also be that one is attaching oneself emotionally to each situation instead of to one’s own feelings and holding on to that experince until it is fully mastered, the whole book or every feeling possible of skateboard motion, movie, pet, etc. This focus makes it all or nothing, all control or none, all exictment or none, etc. I see it in myself and also my kids and don’t know how to deal with it.

  2. morrenk01 (Edit) Report

    I have a son who is 9 year old.He is also a kind of hiper focus reads everywhere [sometimes during the crossing the street}.he does not like sport that much.I wonder he is also ADD now he is doing well at school.Any advise appretiated.

  3. marianne007 (Edit) Report

    Thanks for the article! My son (age 12) is a hyperfocuser, too, although maybe not to the same degree as some. He gets books taken away at home and at school on a regular basis, though, in order to encourage him to finish other tasks and assignments first, or to rejoin the real world around him. I definitely could be more understanding about where he’s coming from. Recently he went to a Halloween party where they watched “The Sixth Sense.” He called home to make sure it was approved viewing. I warned him that it was pretty scary, but I couldn’t think of any other scary movies that I thought would be less haunting for him, so I agreed to it. After the party, I asked him how it went. He said he had to get up and leave the room in parts. Which was ok, since he missed out on some of the more disturbing images of the film. His friends don’t give him a hard time, so for now I’m glad he’s found a way to deal with the challenges he’s got. I remember not long ago it was during “Finding Nemo” that he was running in and out of the room. I think he can handle that show now, but it’s not something he’s watching at a party, so I guess he’s safe from peer critique on that one.

    Thanks again!

  4. Melanie (Edit) Report

    Thank you Kristin!! My son behaves the same way. Just as Andrea, I thought it was amazing how fascinated he seemed to be with things. Then we started having issues at home but not at school – he the ideal student. We’re in the process of testing for ADD/ADHD. It’s so nice to hear other parent’s experiences and know that I’m not alone.

  5. Andrea (Edit) Report

    My son has hyper-focused his whole life, but in a different way than the way you describe your daughter. He is now 19, so I have “the long view” on how this tendency has played out in his life.
    Starting at age three, he exhibited this tendency by think, speak and play about only one subject. At first, we thought it showed a depth to his nature, great ability with observation, and a remarkable ability to feel passionate about something and explore it thoroughly and in depth. While other kids went from one thing to the next, my son would play with one toy for a long time. At just a few months old, he loved to sit on our laps and “read” 18 books in a row.
    On the other side of the coin, he is definitely inflexible and always had trouble with transitions and new situations.
    His passions would last anywhere from three months to several years. As I say, when he was young, it was amazing and interesting to observe his all-consuming enthusiasm for something. Later in life, when he became a teenager and he was shut down and wouldn’t go to school, we discovered that he is ADD/ADHD. Hyperfocusing is a symptom of ADD. This was the last thing we would ever have thought of because he was so well-behaved in school and on sports teams, and he kept up in elementary school, played a musical instrument and so on, however, it was always with my support. He started hyperfocusing on skateboarding, which consumed him throughout high school. A bit of a problem…
    One thing about my son that could be true of your daughter is that he is a very rare highly sensitive type of person. One of the characteristics of this type is perfectionism– to a crippling degree. He was ultra-sensitive to all kinds of situations, movies, etc. As a teen, he realized that he didn’t want to be so sensitive and went to extremes to change himself to be “tough.” But one can’t change one’s temperament. He will be highly sensitive his whole life. Eventually, he will understand himself and find ways to use his sensitivity in positive ways (art, music, understanding people) and understand that certain situations are uncomfortable.
    He still needs support and encouragement to try new situations.

  6. Marjie Knudsen (Edit) Report

    I love this post Kristen! You did an excellent job describing how it is for kids and adults that hyper-focus. Even as an adult I have this issue (along with many relatives)and it helps to realize it. It’s not something that you grow out of. I came to realize at some point that it’s better off if I don’t watch very much TV, or watch a movie unless I know I will not be interrupted… and if the movie is intense, make sure I watch with a friend. I’m so glad that you have embraced the way she is! Hugs to you!

  7. KarenN (Edit) Report

    Thank you so much for your insight. I believe I have a daughter who is hyperfocused. She is 10 years old, and a twin. She whips through books like a tornado. She is on the Honor Roll at school, and is very meticulous. I can relate to trying to stay calm, especially when it’s time for the bus or an appointment, she has a difficult time coming back to reality. I really appreciate your article.




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