This is one of the major challenges of ADHD. It is extremely difficult to sustain attention on something that is not interesting. To others it may appears that the ADHD individual is disobedient, lazy, not very clever, unmotivated, undisciplined, lacking in persistence, etc. Instead, that person is likely to be bored and unable to get his brain to engage with the matter at hand.
Boredom for someone with ADHD can be much more intense than boredom for someone without ADHD. Some individuals with ADHD brain wiring actually describe boredom as painful. Their brains will do anything to avoid that pain, so whatever is nearby that is more interesting will pull their attention like a magnet, and they get lost in that new task until something even more interesting shows up, at which time they move to focusing on that.
Despite the name “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,” individuals with ADHD don’t actually have a deficit in attention. Rather they have a challenge regulating their attention. If something is intensely interesting, someone with ADHD can pay serious attention. They can hyperfocus. Their attention is so intensely engaged that they are completely lost in their minds, such that it seems nothing short of an earthquake (if that!) can bring them back to the present moment.
It can be incredibly helpful and validating to someone with ADHD if the person trying to regain their attention or encourage them to focus understands that the ADHD brain is almost desperately seeking stimulation. If the brain is bored, it will move on to something interesting. What looks like a choice may be a biological necessity in that moment.
Linda Swanson is an ADHD Coach in Warrenton, Virginia. She and her husband, Neil, are partners at Free To Be Coaching, LLC, where they coach in person or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. They coach students from middle school through college as well as adults of all ages, and they also facilitate two support groups for parents of children with ADHD. Linda and Neil are both graduates of the ADD Coach Academy and are credentialed by the International Coach Federation and the Professional Association of ADHD Coaches. Linda can be reached at email@example.com or (703) 508-4774.