“Neurodivergent” means that our brains are wired differently than what’s considered “typical” in our cultural norm. One of the conditions under the umbrella of neurodiversity is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism hyperfixation is a symptom of this condition.
If you’re on the autism spectrum, your experience of this condition will be absolutely unique to you. The “spectrum” in ASD refers to a range of symptoms, skills, and levels of support required.
If you’re autistic, you may experience challenges with social interaction and repetitive patterns of behaviour. Depending on where you lie on the spectrum, the intensity with which you experience the challenges and require support can range from moderate to very substantial.
One particular characteristic of ASD we’re going to discuss in this article is hyperfixation.
What is autism hyperfixation?
Have you ever had the people around you complain that you don’t listen to them when you’re engrossed in a particular activity? Or have you found yourself being up all night finishing your assignment, which made you forget about checking on your pet and even yourself?
It’s an occasional feeling that many of us can relate to. But for those on the autism spectrum, this is a frequent happening, and it’s called hyperfixation.
Hyperfixation is when you pick up a particular interest or activity and become too preoccupied with it for your own good. While your passions and interests are healthy and fulfilling, being hyperfixated on them can negatively affect your daily life and well-being.
Hyperfixation is sometimes also referred to as “hyperfocus” since the activity of your focus occupies the majority of your thoughts, time, and energy.
Initially, being hyperfixated can be a positive and stimulating experience for you as you’re learning so much and having fun doing it. But ultimately, as you get overwhelmed, you may start neglecting other responsibilities, social commitments, and caring for yourself.
For instance, when you’re hyperfixated on a task of immense interest, you might inadvertently delay meals or miss getting back to people. This can eventually make you feel burnt out and even lonely.
What are autism hyperfixation symptoms?
Identifying hyperfixation is essential for you to be able to seek the appropriate kind of support. Some symptoms you can look out for are:
- You tend to suddenly become intensely focused on a topic: This could be anything from a TV show to cooking your favourite dish. You spend a lot of time researching about or engaging with the topic. The kind of understanding and details you have about the topic often leaves others baffled, sometimes even experts.
- Once hooked, you have a hard time transitioning away from the topic: You may try hard to juggle other tasks, but once you’re engaged in your activity of interest, it’s challenging for you to switch focus to anything else.
- You have an extraordinary level of concentration: You spend hours engrossed in your activity, so you’re able to make a lot of progress in your activity, but not much otherwise.
- You inadvertently neglect other responsibilities: You miss work deadlines or let household responsibilities slide. Hence, you end up having strained relationships and difficulties at work.
- You feel physically exhausted: You’re not able to sleep and eat properly because of the stress and anxiety your hyperfixation gives you.
The negative effects of hyperfixation intensify when your activity of focus in itself is not productive or serving you in any way, such as playing video games, scrolling on social media, or shopping online.
Read More About Hyperfixation vs Hyperfocus: ADHD, Autism, and Mental Illness
Examples of autism hyperfixation
If you experience hyperfixation, you may be able to relate to one or many of these situational examples:
- You’re completely engrossed in your work. You spend hours outside of work, always strategizing and finishing more work.
- You have a profound interest in a specific historical era or event. You immerse yourself in the literature, art, and philosophy of that era and often draw parallels between then and now.
- Whether it’s stamps or any other rare collectibles, for you, it’s an intense passion. You spend a significant amount of time collecting and understanding the histories of these pieces.
- You take your passion for reading to the next level. Not only do you enjoy reading a book, but you also research the author’s underlying themes and join dedicated book clubs.
- You love to cook, so you might spend hours perfecting a recipe, understanding the science behind each ingredient’s interaction, and experimenting with dishes from various cultures.
- You’re musically inclined, so you pick up an instrument and practice for hours, research the history of the instrument, and create your mixes with each song chosen for a specific reason.
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How to cope with autism hyperfixation
Hyperfixation can lead to physical and mental distress and neglect of other responsibilities. You can manage your hyperfixation if you:
- Recognize what happens to you and the consequences when you are hyperfixated on something. This creates awareness and gives you a chance to redirect your attention to something else.
- Keep a tab on the time you spend engaging in the activity of your fixation. You can designate specific amounts of time for tasks and use an alarm to keep yourself in check. Schedule enough break time to stretch and refresh.
- Are more intentional with the activity you’re doing so that you’re motivated and focused but not hyperfixated. Outline your goals and prioritize them to stay on track.
- Decide to seek support. You can share your struggles with a close one as well as a therapist who can help you with tools and strategies to overcome hyperfixation.
- Make healthy lifestyle changes such as getting regular sleep, having a balanced diet, exercising, and resting. This can help regulate your focus on activities of interest.
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Hyperfixation is a symptom of the neurodivergent condition Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). If you’re autistic, you may have intensely focused interests that you engage in and zone out from the world.
This intense focus may be followed by feeling overwhelmed and neglecting other important responsibilities and social commitments. The negative effects of hyperfixation intensify when your activity of focus in itself is not serving you in any way,
It is possible to manage the effects of hyperfixation by being aware and more intentional about your tasks and seeking professional health and the support of your loved ones.
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 Ashinoff, B.K., Abu-Akel, A. Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention. Psychological Research 85, 1–19 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01245-8
 L. G. Anthony, L. Kenworthy, B. E. Yerys, K. F. Jankowski, J. D. James, M. B. Harms, A. Martin, and G. L. Wallace, “Interests in high-functioning autism are more intense, interfering, and idiosyncratic than those in neurotypical development,” Development and Psychopathology, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 643–652, 2013.
 Erguvan Tugba Ozel-Kizil, Ahmet Kokurcan, Umut Mert Aksoy, Bilgen Bicer Kanat, Direnc Sakarya, Gulbahar Bastug, Burcin Colak, Umut Altunoz, Sevinc Kirici, Hatice Demirbas, Bedriye Oncu, “Hyperfocusing as a dimension of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”, Research in Developmental Disabilities, Volume 59, 2016, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2016.09.016