Hyperfocused yet scatterbrained

[Note: this has been edited more than a few times to add to and clarify some of the points I am trying to make].

I don’t know whether it’s a gift or a curse to be a highly intelligent person sometimes. If it’s a problem for gifted children to be placed in understimulating environments, what problems does it pose for the gifted adult?

I often wonder if I have ADD-like symptoms because I’m now a stay-at-home mom and left the challenging field of biotechnology. I often zone out on the computer, trying to feed my brain while the kids are doing what they do best (playing) in the background.

On Thursday, because I was on a quest to obtain some information, I wasn’t paying attention to the time and forgot to get my middle daughter off to her afternoon class. Oops. That’s not the first time I’ve been driven to distraction in this manner. The internet is a wonderful and dangerous tool for an information junkie like me.

In seeking to understand myself a little better, I did a quick google and found this Gifted Homeschoolers Forum and an article called Misdiagnosis and Missed Diagnosis:Giftedness and Disorders written by Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD.

In their popular book, Driven to Distraction, Hallowell and Ratey (1994) explain the creativity of individuals with AD/HD in a manner uncomfortably descriptive of most gifted people:

A third element that favors creativity among people with ADD is the ability to intensely focus or hyperfocus at times. The term ‘attention deficit’ is a misnomer. It is a matter of attention inconsistency. While it is true that the ADD mind wanders when not engaged, it is also the case that the ADD mind fastens on to its subject fiercely when it is engaged. A child with ADD may sit for hours meticulously putting together a model airplane. An adult may work with amazing concentration when faced with a deadline. (p. 177) This ability to hyperfocus heats up the furnace in the brain. The intensity of the furnace when it heats up may help explain why it needs to cool down, to be distracted, when it is not heated up. A fourth element contributing to creativity is what Russell Barkley has called the hyperreactivity of the ADD mind. Cousin to the traditional symptom of hyperactivity, hyperreactivity is more common among people with ADD than hyperactivity is. People with ADD are always reacting. Even when they look calm and sedate, they are usually churning inside, taking this piece of data and moving it there, pushing this thought through their emotional network, putting that idea on the fire to burn, exploding or subsiding, but always in motion. Such hyperreactivity enhances creativity because it increases the number of collisions in the brain. Each collision has the potential to emit new light, new matter, as when subatomic particles collide. (p. 178)

Inconsistent attention, the ability to hyperfocus, and hyperreactivity of the mind, are just three of the many traits shared by both the gifted and AD/HD population.

It seems to me that I need to learn more. It also occurs to me that I might be in need of some counseling with a professional who works with gifted individuals, not just because of my own issues, but because it’s becoming obvious to the schools that the girls are very advanced and I need to learn how to navigate uncharted territory.

I tend to hyperfocus on a lot of issues, partly due to the fact that I’m wired to do so. I’m also an active problem solver. If it’s broke, I have to fix it. And consequently when things go slightly off-balance, I tend to want to do something to bring things back into harmony again. I also tend to hyperfocus on the girls’ development, and need to learn to step back from it and let them figure things out. That’s incredibly hard for me to do so. I have an analytical mind, and sometimes it doesn’t let me rest.

The hyper-focus on acquiring knowledge and the analysis and synthesis of ideas is also understood as a component of overexcitabilities. Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician, (1902-1980), developed a theory of advanced development of the person called the Theory of Positive Disintegration. To him, advanced development were preceded by conflict and inner suffering. This conflict and suffering and ultimate higher level development were caused by innate ability/intelligence combined with something he called overexcitabilities. Not all gifted or highly gifted individuals have overexcitabilities, nor are they exclusive to the gifted population (for instance, individuals who are not necessarily gifted do have sensory processing disorders that cause sensory overexcitabilities).

According to this article by Sharon Lind at SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) called Overexcitability and the gifted.

Overexcitabilities are inborn intensities indicating a heightened ability to respond to stimuli. Found to a greater degree in creative and gifted individuals, overexcitabilities are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity, and represent a real difference in the fabric of life and quality of experience. Dabrowski identified five areas of intensity-Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional. A person may possess one or more of these. “One who manifests several forms of overexcitability, sees reality in a different, stronger and more multi-sided manner” (Dabrowski, 1972, p. 7). Experiencing the world in this unique way carries with it great joys and sometimes great frustrations. The joys and positives of being overexcitable need to be celebrated. Any frustrations or negatives can be positively dealt with and used to help facilitate the child’s growth.

I know myself well enough that I have at least two of these overexcitabilities – that of intellectual overexcitabilities and emotional overexcitabilities. With three blogs, participating in two message boards, researching information regarding selective mutism, child development (social and emotional development in particular) and anxiety disorders, I often have a relentless drive to understand and analyze everything. Currently this is focused on finding a complete understanding of my child’s anxieties and how to help all of my girls find their way in the world. The emotional overexcitability I have all too often prevents me from having the needed objectivity at times that is required (someone needs to be the calm and collected one and it’s not going to be my 5 year old).

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6 Responses to Hyperfocused yet scatterbrained

  1. Thank you for this article. I needed it to understand my scatterbrained behavior.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Sherita –

    Thanks for commenting. I see that you have a great post about taming the scatter brain on your blog. I find it very interesting that you referenced information by Lori Radun. I get emails from her (I suppose I should start actually reading them).

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  6. After 23 years this piece of information came to me… hehehe funny….at least that will help me raise my little girl that look’s like to go by the same path. Genetics…Funny thing.

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