Wondering why your child can focus on complicated video games for hours but not his homework? Or, have you completed an amazing project for your job but cannot seem to sit down and complete your taxes?

We all feel a little distracted from time to time. However, people with ADHD may struggle to focus on tasks more often than not. And just because they can focus on some tasks does not mean they can make themselves focus on all tasks!

Interestingly, “attention deficit” doesn’t accurately describe what’s really going on with people who have ADHD. They don’t always have a lack of attention. Many experts are beginning to describe it as unregulated attention. People who live with ADHD are able to pay attention to some things, especially if they are new or interesting. For other tasks, they hyper-focus and struggle to pull themselves away and transition to something else. And there are many situations in which they can’t focus at all.

Let’s take a look at a typical math homework assignment.

Child #1 – This is a kid who loves math! To him, numbers just make sense. There is always a right or wrong answer; nothing is subjective. Despite losing focus on other assignments, he easily sits down to complete the math, without complaint. Almost everyday there is a new concept or skill, keeping him interested. He stays on task, even when the assignment is longer than usual.

Child #2 – This young boy is capable of completing the math, but he prefers to read. During his after school snack break, he enjoys reading books and he often can’t pull himself away from reading to get the math homework started. After several (calm) requests, mom starts to lose it because she knows that time is ticking and she has to squeeze dinner and a sports practice into the evening as well. His hyper-focus on reading is preventing him from transitioning to the homework assignment. (Substitute video games for a similar scenario!)

Child #3 –This child thinks math is boring. She begins to daydream after finishing only two questions and gets up for a drink of water. She wants to tell mom all about her day, doodles on the side of the paper and can’t stay on task. Even though she understands the assignment, she can’t complete more than one or two problems without losing focus. The math homework takes an hour instead of 30 minutes.

Many adults find themselves in similar situations with household tasks or job-related projects. They can focus on some tasks, they can’t pull themselves away from others and there are some responsibilities that they can’t seem to complete even if their lives depended on it.

This is what is so tricky about ADHD! Focus depends on interest and novelty, among other factors. And sometimes hyper-focus can interfere with accomplishing a task as much as a lack of focus.

Have you found this to be true? Please comment below!