Dr. Russell Barkley says hyperfocus goes with autism while perseveration goes with ADHD.

I read that perseveration is the same as hyperfocus or that hyperfocus goes with ADHD.

So what's the difference? Is Dr. Russell Barkley right?


I myself have never found evidence to suggest a difference between perseveration and hyperfocus when referring to ADHD. However, while 'hyperfocus' can be a psychiatric or non-psychiatric condition, perseveration is typically considered a psychiatric condition in all instances.

The wikipedia page for hyperfocus has an entire section dedicated to the confusion between hyperfocus and perseveration, particularly as it pertains to ADHD.

Hyperfocus may in some cases also be symptomatic of a psychiatric condition. In these cases it is more commonly and accurately referred to as perseveration (or perseverance) - the inability to, or impairment in, switching tasks or activities ("set shifting"), or desisting from mental or physical response repetition (gestures, words, thoughts) despite absence or cessation of a stimulus, and which is not excessive in terms of quantity but are apparently both functionless and involve a narrow range of behaviours, and are not better described as stereotypy (a highly repetitive idiosyncratic behaviour).

It is typical for individuals with ADHD to say they 1), can not focus on boring things and 2), can only focus on stimulating things, and that focus is often extreme. Thus it is both a concentration deficit and over-concentration, or generically: "hyperfocus.

  • $\begingroup$ Lol. I saw that page and section but not the subsection title. Thanks Sydney Maples hahaha $\endgroup$ – Jack Bauer Sep 3 '15 at 19:47

Actually,if you saw a few of Dr. Barkley's presentations. He referred to people with autism spectrum disorder as hyperfocus because they focused immensely on fine details of their sensations and their environments. While this hyperfocus, lacks the big picture perception. For instance, the child with autism might focus on the car wheel, while not attending to the car itself.

While perseveration was well defined by the "upstairs" author.

EDIT: Scientists would agree that they have what the ADHD community defines hyperfocus, but some (not all) psychologist/psychiatrist would not appreciate the use of this term based on the definition alone. They would disagree on the word used to define it. They would agree that people with ADHD have perseveration, but not hyperfocus (based on the definition alone). There is science to backup issues related to perseveration. While positive aspects of perseveration is probably lacking in the literature (since that's harder to look for). Hyperfocus would be kept for the autistic symptoms of focusing far too much on one element or detail and not perceiving the remaining of the item for instance.

To make things more complicated, I know there is one psychiatrist who uses the term hyperfocus (although probably not in thescientific literature). His name is Edward Hallowell. He's more of a clinicians and a book writer than a scientist from what I remember.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks MindsEye. What do you mean not scientifically? Some scientists don't think people with ADHD have hyperfocus (or perseveration) or something of the sort? $\endgroup$ – Jack Bauer Sep 7 '15 at 23:54
  • $\begingroup$ Check out my edit in the previous post. $\endgroup$ – MindsEye Sep 10 '15 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ 'based on the definition alone' --> the definition of what? hyperfocus? what is the definition? $\endgroup$ – Jack Bauer Sep 12 '15 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ Well. I was wrong to say about the definition alone since the term is not often used in academic journals. So there is no actual definition. But Barkley has stated in many conferences that he views hyperfocus to be more related with the attentive patterns of autistics, rather than ADHD. Mostly since the word entails an increase focus on singular items or task. While ADHD is more about perseveration of the task, not hyperfocus of attention. But that's his view, and his comments. $\endgroup$ – MindsEye Sep 13 '15 at 4:10

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