Tuesday 10 April 2018

Autism Acceptance Month 2018 Day 9: H is for Hyperfocus

BSL: focus (bottom left sign - others are different contexts)

H is for Hyperfocus

The ability of autistics to hyperfocus on something can be pretty spectacular. When something captures our interest and passion, we're away and gone, completely absorbed by it. Of course, the downside of this is that we have been known to necglect more mundane things such as eating! I'd like to say that that has never happened to me but I'd be lying.

Ironically, as I'm trying to write this, I have very little focus and I'm really struggling to write this so I'm keeping it short for the moment, with the promise of coming back to this topic at a later date.

Hyperfocus is definitely a positive trait on many levels. It enables us to really get things done and not be distracted by other, external things, we are thorough and cover all bases, tasks get completed more quickly than they might otherwise, enables us to achieve difficult things, can help us become experts in our areas of interest and allows us to be phenomenally productive (not just in terms of work but also learning, campaigning and pretty much anything you can think of).

And when a group of autistics come together and hyperfocus on the same thing, the results can be amazing. Longer-term followers of this blog may recall the Not Locked In campaign last year, when a group of us came together to get Caudwell Children to stop their "Locked In For Autism" stunt. Over the course of a mere few days we mobilised, assailed social media, fired off goodness knows how many emails and got the support of many autistics and allies, including prominent autistic advocates and activists, and a mere few days after starting, Tesco had withdrawn their support for the stunt and not long after that Caudwell decided to permanently abandon it.

More recently, I worked with Cal Montgomery and Kieran Rose to put together the ongoing petition against the Judge Rotenberg Center's use of electric shocks for behaviour control that you can sign and share if you have not yet done so. Please please please do - the details of why we created the petition are in the link. We devoted pretty much an entire weekend to getting the wording just right, and finding useful, reliable, weighty resources to support our case.

In my own life, my ability to hyperfocus on things has benefited me greatly, particularly in terms of studying (as I am a very academic person), learning all I can about subjects that interest me, my activism and advocacy work, running a major folk festival alongside my degree and being president of another university society, writing (I still amaze myself sometimes when I write 3,000-odd words in one day; if only that could happen every day!) and generally getting things done. I do have some problems with executive functioning, which can be a hindrance when it comes to starting a task, but once I have started I get completely immersed in it until it is complete, to the point where I can tune out the entire world and people have to take extreme measures to get my attention. Many of my fellow autistics have the same experiences.

I will write more about this subject another time but in the meantime, here is some further reading on the subject:

Forbes: autistics have a stronger aptitude for focusing on tasks

Medium: Autistic superpowers

MIT: harnessing the power of ASD

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