Hyperfixation Key Takeaways: Hyperfixation is an intense state of concentration on a particular object, activity, or topic. It can be positive or negative, depending on the object of focus and the context of the situation. Common triggers and symptoms of hyperfixation include feelings of excitement and pleasure, the need for control, and a desire for mastery.
Lots of teens love video games. Everyone knows that. And many teens, autistic or neurotypical, play video games too often, which can interfere with daily living. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are hyperfixated on video games.
But do you remember the story a few years ago about the young man who died after playing video games for too long? He stayed in the same inactive position for so long that blood clots formed.
Those blood clots then traveled to his lungs and killed him. That is probably a worst-case scenario of hyperfixation.
But how do you know? What is hyperfixation, and what is just a case of “playing video games too much?”
Hyperfixation is intense concentration on a particular object, activity, or topic. It is a common trait found in individuals with ADHD, but it can also occur in people without the disorder. Hyperfixation can be positive or negative, depending on the object of focus and the context of the situation.
Hyperfixation can also lead to negative consequences, such as neglecting responsibilities and relationships and experiencing burnout.
For some people, hyperfixation is a coping mechanism. A person may hyperfixate on something that makes them happy or relaxes them. Sometimes, being hyperfixated is a welcome distraction to cope with sensory input. My son tends to hyperfixate on all things Sesame Street, especially their videos and music.
This is helpful when we are at a noisy place that we cannot avoid or a medical appointment that would otherwise stress him out.
Hyperfixations become harmful when they turn into avoidance. If the hyperfixation results in not eating, sleeping, maintaining hygiene, or nurturing relationships, then perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the situation.
I want to acknowledge that for some autistics and others, noisy situations or social situations can be extra difficult to navigate and tolerate. However, sometimes we have to do hard things. And we can do hard things.
If you always avoid certain situations to participate in your hyperfixation, other coping mechanisms should be explored.
Other times, the subject of your hyperfixation can be harmful. For example, hyperfixating on a traumatic experience.
Hyperfixations are often associated with ADHD and Autism. Let’s dig in and examine what they are and what can be done to manage them if they are a problem in the household.
What is Hyperfixation?
According to a 2021 article in PubMed:
‘Hyperfocus’ is a phenomenon that reflects one’s complete absorption in a task, to a point where a person appears to completely ignore or ‘tune out’ everything else. Hyperfocus is most often mentioned in the context of autism, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but research into its effect on cognitive and neural functioning is limited. We propose that hyperfocus is a critically important aspect of cognition, particularly with regard to clinical populations, and that it warrants significant investigation. Hyperfocus, though ostensibly self-explanatory, is poorly defined within the literature. In many cases, hyperfocus goes undefined, relying on the assumption that the reader inherently knows what it entails. Thus, there is no single consensus to what constitutes hyperfocus.From Hyperfocus: the Forgotten Frontier of Attention
Definition of Hyperfixations
If you read the citation above, you will see that there is no official clinical definition of hyperfixation or hyperfocus.
While many clinicians and families witness behavior they may consider a hyperfixation, there is no clinical definition or DSM criteria.
There are some criteria that, while not official, and often associated with a hyperfixation.
- Enhanced focus and attention on an object or activity
- Diminished awareness of time
- Diminished awareness of the environment
- Acute or sustained effects on everyday activities such as interactions with people, eating and drinking, sleeping, etc.
- Engaging in this activity affects their self-regulation (or lack thereof)
Have you ever worked on something, say reading a book or finishing a painting or project…and you could not sleep until you finished it?
Or, you get so engrossed in finishing something that you skip a meal or a shower? That’s a hyperfixation on a small scale.
For some people, these hyperfixations often occur to the point where their day-to-day activities get disrupted.
Since there are no official criteria for ‘qualifying’ as a hyperfixation, the timeline can be anywhere from a few hours to months or even more.
Hyperfixation is a persistent focus on a particular activity, object, or idea. It is a common experience for many people, including those with ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Hyperfixation can be a positive or negative experience, depending on the context and the individual’s goals.
Hyperfixation differs from fixation, which is a temporary focus on a particular task or activity. Fixation is a normal part of the human experience and can be beneficial for completing tasks or achieving goals. However, hyperfixation is more intense and persistent than fixation and can interfere with daily life.
Individuals with ADHD often experience hyperfixation, which is sometimes called “ADHD hyperfocus.” During hyperfixation, individuals with ADHD can become so absorbed in a task or activity that they lose track of time and neglect other responsibilities.
However, hyperfixation can also be a positive experience for individuals with ADHD, as it can help them complete tasks or achieve goals.
Hyperfixation is also common among individuals on the autism spectrum. Autistic individuals may become intensely focused on a particular topic or activity, which can be a source of joy and fulfillment. Hyperfixation can also interfere with daily life and social interactions.
Hyperfixation can also be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Individuals with OCD may become fixated on a particular thought or behavior, which can interfere with daily life and cause distress.
Overall, hyperfixation is a common experience for many individuals, including those with ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, or OCD.
While hyperfixation can be a positive or negative experience, it is important to recognize when it interferes with daily life and seek support if necessary.
Why are some people hyperfixated on things?
The mechanisms behind hyperfixations are not yet fully understood.
A few hypotheses are being tossed around and studied regarding why people engage in hyperfixation.
- They enjoy the feelings of success that come with that activity. For example, if a person is successful at a certain video game but not in other areas of life, they will gravitate toward success.
- The activity or item brings them comfort. This is likely the case with my son. He finds comfort in these Sesame Street items.
- For some people with OCD, hyperfixation is a part of their pattern of activity. The brain goes into a mode of “I have to do XYZ to prevent ABC…” and then XYZ becomes their hyperinterest.
Is Hyperfixation only for ADHD?
It is widely reported that people with ADHD experience hyperfixation more frequently than their neurotypical peers.
For some people, hyperfixation can be a coping mechanism. People may hyperfixate on something that makes them feel more relaxed or happy.
In some cases, hyperfixation is a helpful distraction from the things stressing a person out. My son likes to have an Ernie, Elmo, or Count doll during stressful times.
However, they are not limited to ADHD. Hyperfixations are also associated with and seen more frequently in individuals with:
- OCD Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Anxiety Disorders
What are the Symptoms of a Hyperfixation?
A person who is hyperfixated might:
- Be unable to control their actions or activities, and this may be compounded by a lack of self-awareness or the ability to recognize that you have no control
- Lose track of time or feel like time is passing very quickly, such as staying up all night
- Fail to recognize things happening around you, such as forgetting to feed a pet
- Forget to do necessary things like eating or sleeping, like the story a few years ago of a young man who died from blood clots because he spent so many hours sitting and playing a video game; he was in the same position for so long that he developed fatal blood clots.
- Become less self-aware and socially aware, keeping in mind the person’s baseline; many autistics and others are introverts by nature, and this would be extraordinarily so
Common Triggers and Symptoms of Hyperfixation
Hyperfixation is a state of intense focus that can last for hours or even days. It can be triggered by a wide variety of factors, including anxiety, depression, obsession, passion, or simply finding an activity enjoyable.
When someone is hyperfixated, they become engrossed in their activity to the point where they may forget to eat or lose track of time.
Some common symptoms of hyperfixation include losing track of time, neglecting to eat, and becoming completely absorbed in an activity. This can be both a positive and negative experience, depending on the circumstances.
For example, someone who is hyperfixated on a project they are passionate about may feel a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. On the other hand, someone who is hyperfixated on negative thoughts or behaviors may experience anxiety or depression.
Hyperfixation can also be a sign of ADHD or other neurodivergent conditions. In these cases, individuals may struggle with regulating attention and become hyperfixated on certain activities or thoughts.
It is important to note that hyperfixation is not always a negative experience and can be a source of creativity and productivity.
To manage hyperfixation, it is important to identify triggers and develop coping strategies. This may include setting timers or reminders to take breaks, practicing mindfulness techniques, or seeking support from a mental health professional.
By understanding the common triggers and symptoms of hyperfixation, individuals can learn to regulate their attention and achieve a more balanced approach to their activities.
Examples of Hyperfixations
A hyperfixation can be anything.
One common stereotype of hyperfixations and autism is Thomas the Train. For whatever reason, it seems that many autistic children are drawn to TV series and toys.
It might be the soothing voice, the colors, the eye shape on the trains…who knows?
But a hyperfixation can be a toy, an activity, or anything that creates a situation where the person is hyper-focused on that thing.
Hyperfixation and Interests
Hyperfixation is a term used to describe an intense and prolonged focus on a particular interest, hobby, or activity. It is a common occurrence among individuals with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.
Hyperfixation can take many forms, including a fascination with a particular subject, a deep interest in a specific hobby or activity, or an obsession with a particular media.
Hyperfixation can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can lead to the development of new hobbies, passions, and interests. On the other hand, it can also lead to a person neglecting other important aspects of their life.
For example, someone may spend all their time and energy on a particular interest to the detriment of their work, relationships, or health.
However, hyperfixation can also be a positive force in a person’s life. It can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment and help individuals develop new skills and talents. Moreover, hyperfixation can be a source of joy and happiness, allowing individuals to explore new activities and experiences.
It is important to note that hyperfixation is not the same as a special interest. A special interest is a term used to describe a deep and abiding passion for a particular subject or activity that is common among individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Special interests can provide comfort, pleasure, and motivation for autistic individuals.
Hyperfixation can be a powerful force in a person’s life, both positive and negative. It is important to balance pursuing one’s interests and maintaining a healthy and well-rounded life.
Hyperfixations and Food
Food hyperfixations are very common. This means some people may only eat a specific food or meal for a while before becoming tired and moving on to a different one.
This is something that I periodically experience.
Just recently, for me, it was the Little Debbie Nutty Buddy snacks. I could not get enough of them. The Aldi brand or Tastykake would not suffice; it had to be Little Debbie. I would eat one or two a day. I had to have them. I craved them.
Then, just as quickly as it turned on, a few months later, it turned off.
Looking at the package now actually turns my stomach.
You can see below that this is common. This person’s post on Reddit r/ADHD got many upvotes, and there are many similar conversations about this online.
Is Being Hyperfixated Harmful?
Hyperfixations are not inherently harmful.
Something that brings you joy, comfort, satisfaction, or success is not bad.
When it becomes harmful, you damage yourself or the environment around you.
- Your physical health is suffering as a result of your hyperfixation
- Your pet is neglected, or your family or your home is dangerously filthy due to a hyperfixation
- You have trouble maintaining a job or other commitments due to the hyperfixation
- Your skill sets regress due to your hyperfixation; for example, you spend countless hours only in online gaming communities, and your coping skills in regular society or communication skills in your community regress.
Is there Medication for Hyperfixations?
The short answer is yes. But like anything else, you should talk with your medical team and whoever is helping you manage your condition(s) like autism, ADHD, OCD, and so on.
And, not to minimize anyone’s struggles with hyperfixations if they are interrupting your life, but a healthy lifestyle always helps.
That doesn’t mean that the hollow advice of “drink more water!” will stop your hyperfixations.
But, staying hydrated, well nourished, getting outdoors, and getting physical activity, plus a good sleep schedule, contribute to overall better well-being.
Hyperfocus and an IEP
Like anything else on your IEP, if you want something added, write your request and follow up with a PWN.
Yes, students can have goals that include managing hyperfocus and hyperfixations.
Hyperfocus or hyperfixation may be considered a child’s strength and may be used as a reward or incentive.
I do not believe all hyperfixations should be redirected just because they exist. If they are disrupting the child’s or their classmates’ school day, then yes, they should be managed.
But, over the years, I have found many staff members annoyed with some of our kids’ quirks when they are not hurting anyone. So who cares?
How to Stop Hyperfixations
Can you cure hyperfixations? No, but you can teach your children to manage them.
Self-awareness and discipline are key. And those two things don’t always come easy to everyone.
You can do things like:
- Have morning meetings, after-school check-ins, or whatever works for your family. Set priorities and a schedule.
- Set timers for activities.
- Give yourself or your child ultimatums and incentives, like “If you stop ABC at 6:00, then we can do XYZ.”
- Introduce a schedule for activities that tend to result in hyperfixations. This may involve limiting their time watching television or playing video games.
- Try to make the child aware that hyperfocus is a symptom of their condition. This can help them understand that they need to address it.
- Try using definitive time points, such as the end of a TV show or meal, to signal that the child needs to do something else.
- Promote activities that remove them from isolation and that promote being social.
- Set timers and reminders to help complete all essential tasks, activities, or chores.
- Try sensory toys for adults or other fidget distractions if the person avoids situations and is drawn only to their hyperfocus activities or situations.
Developing self-awareness is often difficult but is key to minimizing this behavior if it is disruptive.
If appropriate, the family and a medical team should determine the hyperfocused activity’s root cause.
What “gift” does it bring the person? Familiarity? Comfort? Self-stimulating input? Why is the person engaging in this activity or pattern? What intrinsic rewards is it giving them?
If a teenager can only connect with others online or only feels a sense of accomplishment from a video game, that would be your starting point. Find other areas in their life where they can be successful or engage with others besides online gaming.
That’s not always easy and might take much trial and error. But everyone has their place on the planet, and I’m sure some healthier alternatives exist.
The takeaway is that we can all always improve. Please do not let family, friends, or anyone tell you, “Oh, it’s always going to be this way because he has autism.”
I believe we can always grow, improve ourselves, and reduce our destructive behaviors (if our hyperfixations are destructive).
Hyperfocus vs Perseveration
Two other terms you will often hear associated with hyperfixation are hyperfocus and perseveration. Perseveration or perseverate is often used when discussing autistic people.
“Hyperfocus” is an overloaded word that is often used to refer to two superficially similar — but fundamentally different — mental states: flow and perseveration.
Flow is a positive, beneficial state of deep immersion and high engagement in a task or activity, and is also usually accompanied by enjoyment of the task/activity. It’s something almost all people are capable of, and specifically is not a benefit imparted by ADHD.
Perseveration, on the other hand, is often a part of ADHD, autism and other conditions. It is the inability to switch between tasks or mental activities. It’s that thing that makes you spend 10 hours doing something non-stop even when you know you need to stop and do something else.(source: Reddit)
Is Hyperfixation the same as addiction?
No, though you will often hear the terms used interchangeably. Using my Little Debbie example above (my food hyperfixation), I believe I have even uttered the phrase, “I am so addicted to these things.”
But I was not addicted.
Addiction is not an escape; it is dependence. Whether chemical or experiential, it is an addiction if you cannot go without it for even brief periods of time.
If someone is addicted to a video game, a lack of access will cause distress, anxiety, aggression, and often physical symptoms.
By contrast, hyperfixation is characterized by periods when interest in the experience, book, game, or whatever someone was fixated on is completely gone. The interest may be sparked tomorrow or next month, but there is no withdrawal. Again, one day, out of the blue, I disliked Little Debbie Nutty Buddy snacks.
A person who is hyperfixated on things may find it happening on days when they are under extreme stress or anxiety.
That’s not to say that hyperfixation cannot interfere with one’s general well-being and daily living. It can. If you are neglecting your physical health, family, relationships, jobs, or pets due to a hyperfixation, then you should work toward fixing it.
Hyperfixation in Daily Life
Hyperfixation is an intense focus on a particular activity or interest. It can be a positive experience when directed towards productive activities, such as work, hobbies, or creative projects. However, it can also be detrimental when it interferes with daily responsibilities, productivity, time management, and energy.
When someone is in a state of hyperfixation, they may experience a sense of flow, concentration, and being “in the zone.” This can lead to improved task performance and productivity, but it can also result in neglecting other responsibilities or tasks.
To manage hyperfixation in daily life, it is important to set a schedule and prioritize tasks. This can help ensure that important responsibilities are not neglected. Additionally, taking breaks and practicing self-care can help prevent burnout and maintain energy levels.
If hyperfixation is interfering with daily life, it may be helpful to seek the assistance of a therapist or counselor. They can provide guidance on managing hyperfixation and developing coping mechanisms.
In summary, hyperfixation can be a positive experience when directed towards productive activities, but it can also interfere with daily life. By setting a schedule, prioritizing tasks, and practicing self-care, it is possible to manage hyperfixation and maintain productivity without neglecting important responsibilities.
Hyperfixation can be a powerful tool for productivity and creativity, but it can also be overwhelming and disruptive. To manage hyperfixation, it is important to develop awareness of when it occurs and to establish coping mechanisms to redirect or control it when necessary.
One effective strategy for managing hyperfixation is to set a timer or schedule for focused work and play. This can help establish a healthy balance between intense focus and rest, and can prevent burnout or exhaustion. It is also important to identify the root cause of hyperfixation and to address any underlying issues that may be contributing to it.
In addition to self-management techniques, there are also resources available for managing hyperfixation, such as medication, counseling, or professional help from a therapist. It is important to seek out these resources if hyperfixation is interfering with daily life or causing significant distress.
Overall, managing hyperfixation requires a combination of awareness, control, and self-care. By developing effective coping mechanisms and seeking out appropriate resources, individuals can harness the power of hyperfixation while maintaining a healthy and productive lifestyle.
Hyperfixation in Relationships
Hyperfixation can also affect relationships, especially if one partner has a special interest that they are hyperfixated on. In a relationship, communication is key, and if one partner is hyperfixated on something, it can be difficult for them to focus on anything else, including their partner.
It’s important to remember that hyperfixation is not a choice, and it’s not something that someone can simply turn off. However, there are ways to manage hyperfixation in relationships. One way is to set aside specific times for hyperfixation, and to make sure that these times do not interfere with important activities or events.
Another way to manage hyperfixation in relationships is to communicate openly with your partner. It’s important to explain what hyperfixation is and how it affects you, and to ask for their support and understanding. It’s also important to listen to your partner’s concerns and to work together to find a solution that works for both of you.
For spouses of individuals with hyperfixation, it can be challenging to understand and support their partner. However, it’s important to remember that hyperfixation is a part of who they are, and that it’s not something that can be changed. It’s important to be patient and understanding, and to offer support and encouragement when needed.
For teachers and educators, it’s important to recognize that hyperfixation can be a sign of an underlying condition, such as ADHD or autism. It’s important to work with the student and their parents to develop strategies to manage hyperfixation and to help the student stay focused on their schoolwork.
In conclusion, hyperfixation can affect relationships, but it’s important to remember that it’s not a choice, and that there are ways to manage it. By setting aside specific times for hyperfixation, communicating openly with your partner, and offering support and understanding, it’s possible to maintain a healthy and happy relationship.
Hyperfixation in Different Age Groups
Hyperfixation is a behavior that can affect people of all ages. Children may hyperfixate on certain toys, games, or TV shows, while adults may hyperfocus on their work, hobbies, or interests.
In children, hyperfixation is often a normal part of development. It can help them learn and explore new things. However, if hyperfixation becomes excessive, it may interfere with their daily activities and social interactions. Parents and caregivers can help children manage hyperfixation by setting limits and encouraging a variety of activities.
In adults, hyperfixation can be a symptom of various conditions, such as ADHD, autism, or OCD. It can also be a sign of stress, anxiety, or depression. Adults who hyperfocus on work or hobbies may neglect other aspects of their lives, such as relationships or self-care.
They may benefit from therapy, medication, or lifestyle changes to manage their hyperfixation.
It’s important to note that hyperfixation is not always a negative behavior. It can be a source of motivation, creativity, and enjoyment. However, if it starts to interfere with one’s well-being or responsibilities, it may be necessary to seek help.
Hyperfixation and Technology
Technology is one of the most common triggers for hyperfixation. With the rise of social media, video games, and streaming services, getting lost in a digital world is easier than ever. For some, this can be a healthy escape from the stresses of everyday life. However, for others, it can become an all-consuming obsession.
Video games, in particular, are a common source of hyperfixation. The immersive nature of video games can make it easy to lose track of time. Players can become so engrossed in the game that they forget to eat, sleep, or take breaks. This can lead to physical and mental health problems, such as eye strain, fatigue, and depression.
To manage hyperfixation related to video games, individuals can try setting limits on their gaming time, taking breaks every hour, or finding other hobbies to balance out their gaming habits. It’s also important to recognize when gaming is no longer a healthy escape and seek professional help if necessary.
Social media is another common trigger for hyperfixation. With the constant stream of notifications, likes, and comments, it’s easy to get caught up in the world of social media. This can lead to an unhealthy obsession with likes, followers, and online validation.
To manage hyperfixation related to social media, individuals can try setting limits on their social media usage, taking breaks from social media, or finding other ways to connect with friends and family in person. It’s also important to recognize when social media is no longer a healthy escape and seek professional help if necessary.
Technology can be a powerful entertainment, communication, and education tool. However, it’s important to recognize when technology use becomes unhealthy and to take steps to manage hyperfixation related to technology.
Negative Consequences of Hyperfixation
While hyperfixation can be positive, allowing individuals to pursue their passions and interests with great intensity, it can also have negative consequences.
One of the biggest downsides of hyperfixation is distractibility. When someone is hyperfixated on a particular task or activity, they may become so focused on it that they lose sight of everything else. This can lead to neglect of other important tasks and responsibilities, such as work, school, or personal relationships.
Another negative consequence of hyperfixation is that it can be difficult to break out of once it has taken hold. People who become hyperfixated on something may find it hard to stop thinking about it or to move on to other things. This can lead to a lack of flexibility and adaptability, which can be problematic in a constantly changing world.
Hyperfixation can also have physical consequences. People who become hyperfixated on something may forget to eat, sleep, or care for other basic needs. Over time, this can lead to fatigue, malnutrition, and other health problems.
It is important to note that not everyone who experiences hyperfixation will experience these negative consequences. However, it is important to be aware of the potential downsides of hyperfixation and to take steps to mitigate them when possible. This may involve limiting the amount of time spent on a particular activity, seeking professional help if necessary, or finding ways to balance hyperfixation with other important aspects of life.
Hyperfixation and Success
Hyperfixation can sometimes be seen as a negative trait but can also lead to success in certain areas. When someone becomes hyperfocused on a particular activity or subject, they can develop a high level of expertise in that area. This expertise can then lead to success in their personal or professional life.
For example, someone who becomes hyperfixated on a particular sport may develop a deep understanding of the game and become an expert in that sport. This expertise can lead to success as a coach, commentator, or even as a professional athlete.
Similarly, someone who becomes hyperfixated on a particular subject, such as programming, may develop a deep understanding of coding and become an expert in that area. This expertise can lead to success as a software developer, entrepreneur, or even a professor.
Hyperfixation can also lead to a sense of energized focus. When someone becomes hyperfocused on a particular task, they may feel a sense of flow, where their attention is fully engaged, and they lose track of time. This energized focus can lead to increased productivity and creativity.
However, it is important to note that hyperfixation can also have negative consequences if it becomes obsessive or interferes with daily functioning. It is important to balance hyperfixation and other areas of life to ensure overall well-being.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the symptoms of hyperfixation?
Hyperfixation is characterized by an intense focus on a particular subject or activity. Some common symptoms of hyperfixation include losing track of time, neglecting basic needs such as eating or sleeping, and becoming irritable or agitated when interrupted.
How can hyperfixation affect someone with depression or anxiety?
Hyperfixation can both help and hinder individuals with depression or anxiety. On one hand, it can provide a sense of purpose and distraction from negative thoughts and emotions. On the other hand, it can also exacerbate feelings of anxiety or depression if the hyperfixation becomes all-consuming and interferes with daily functioning.
What are some common hyperfixations in adults?
Common adult hyperfixations can range from hobbies such as gaming, art, or music to academic or work-related tasks. Some individuals may also experience hyperfixation in a particular person or relationship.
Is hyperfixation a neurodivergent trait?
Hyperfixation is a common trait among individuals who are neurodivergent, such as those with ADHD or autism. However, it is important to note that hyperfixation can also occur in individuals who are not neurodivergent.
What does it feel like to have a hyperfixation?
Having a hyperfixation can feel both exhilarating and exhausting. It can be a source of intense joy and fulfillment, but it can also be all-consuming and interfere with daily functioning.
How can someone stop hyperfixating on a person or topic?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best approach will depend on individual circumstances. However, some strategies that may be helpful include setting time limits on hyperfixation, practicing mindfulness and meditation, and pursuing new hobbies or interests. It may also be helpful to seek support from a mental health professional.
Good luck to you, and you can always join our Chat Forums to discuss any issue further.