Have you seen someone glued to any activity that they lose track of time and sense of the things happening around them? Or think of this scenario: a 12- year-old child, putting overt focus or becoming fixated on a video game for the past six months, forgetting all the important tasks at hand like doing homework, playing with other children, or worse, losing sleep. Is that typical behavior?
Hyperfixation vs. Hyperfocus: Difference Between Hyperfocus and Hyperfixation
If not, then these could be signs of one of the underlying mental illnesses, specifically attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). How can these two conditions affect the quality of life of an individual? Read further to know more in detail.
Difference between ADHD and ASD
ADHD and ASD are both neurodevelopmental disorders of the brain that begin in early childhood and continue till adulthood. The signs of both conditions overlap quite a bit, hence making diagnosis very difficult, often misdiagnosing one condition as the other.
The American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual DSM 5 now states that both ADHD and ASD can exist together. Both these conditions impair social interactions, normal day-to-day life activities, and sabotage relationships.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is associated with a lack of attention in performing routine activities and excessive physical movements, and emotional restlessness like ceaseless thinking or talking. But on the flip side, people with ADHD also show too much interest and concentration in doing the activities they like or which provide instant gratification. These activities can be anything from playing a certain kind of game to chatting on social media.
The key point is, while they get too engrossed in doing these activities, they miss out on performing important tasks required for day-to-day life. This has detrimental effects on their lives due to failure in schools or colleges, unemployment, and failed relationships.
Types of ADHD
ADHD is categorized into:
Risk factors of ADHD
These can be any of the following:
- Environmental risk factors during pregnancy, such as smoking cigarettes, alcohol, or drug use
- Drug abuse
- Stress during pregnancy
- Preterm birth
Brain scans of ADHD children show abnormalities in the brain’s frontal part, which controls the movements of hands, feet, eyes, and speech.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
Autism starts appearing very early in childhood in the form of lack of verbal and social skills, erratic movements of hands or head, and maintaining eye contact.
How ASD Affects Children and Teens
According to a WHO estimate, one in 160 children suffers from ASD worldwide. These children become very reclusive and do not like socializing too much. They have repetitive behavior and become fixated on certain activities like continuous washing of hands and cleaning without realizing when to stop themselves from doing it. Their fixation can also sometimes make them excel in the subject of their interest, but their interests are fewer.
Risk factors of ASD
- Infection during pregnancy
- Drug abuse
- Exposure to pesticides and air pollution
Difference between hyperfocus and hyper fixation
Hyperfocus and hyper fixation are two signs of one of the most misdiagnosed and undertreated mental health disorders known as ADHD. These signs are also present in patients with autism and some other mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), schizophrenia, depression, etc.
Hyperfixation and hyperfocus are often used synonymously. However, there is a very thin line differentiating these two terms.
It is a sense of deep and overt concentration on a specific subject or thought which can be positive but detrimental at the same time. It is a common symptom of ADHD and may not be present in ASD patients.
As the name suggests, the deficit of attention does not necessarily mean they lack complete attention. Rather, they have difficulty in managing the mind to perform the tasks at hand.
On a positive note, children with hyperfocus have been deemed unique and gifted, as their focus keeps them excessively engaged in creating something exceptional. However, excessive focus on pointless things or activities can be detrimental to one’s quality of life.
It is a kind of extreme fixation on a certain show, person, or thought. It is a kind of coping mechanism for people suffering from anxiety disorders, depression, and autism. Hyperfixation can last for years, unlike hyperfocus, where a person shifts their focus after completing a certain task.
Hyperfixation is more like binge-watching a show, and following it even after it ends by reading the associated novels, talking to people about it incessantly, or in extreme cases, relating themselves with some character in real life.
Binge-eating, obsession over an ex-partner, using a particular cloth, etc. also comes under the paradigm of hyper fixation. It releases a rush of dopamine into the brain, therefore, the person will always enjoy what they are doing, whether it is good or not.
Several medical conditions can cause hyperfocus and hyper fixation, such as:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Anxiety disorders
Treatment of hyper fixation and hyperfocus
Both of these are co-related signs of ADHD and ASD and can be treated together. Since the signs appear quite early in childhood, treatment should start as soon as the early symptoms are identified.
Such measures include:
- Creating a disciplined environment for watching TV or video games
- Making a timetable to track activities so that one doesn’t miss out on performing important tasks
- Mindfulness techniques like meditation, which have been proven to keep thoughts in check, especially with hyper fixation
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Psychotherapy and medication in cases of extreme signs
Living with ADHD, Autism and Hyperactivity Disorders
Mental health is a very delicate zone. One should always seek an expert opinion before starting any therapy. At the online mental health portal, United We Care, we have a pool of experts in the mental health domain to help people with mental health illnesses. With correct diagnosis and timely treatment, you can lead a less stressful, happier life. Download our app, Stella, or contact us to open the doorway to healing.