Inattention

Attention difficulty can have numerous reasons, and be either purposeful or mainly an inconvenience (often depending on circumstances).

“Fatigue and distractions are sure causes of ADD for me. Or often I will focus on something about a person that I’m more interested in, such as how they are saying things, the sound of their voice or if I’m trying to determine what kind of person they are, and not hear what they say, or I’ll look at things with a creative eye instead of a practical eye and these types of things I attribute to purposeful ADD that I’ve engaged because of my own interests or boredom or disinterest.”

“Then there’s non-purposeful ADD. One thing I’ve noticed is that my brain has a mind of it’s own.  At times it will automatically filter what it thinks is interesting without regard for what’s important.  It will filter things I’ve heard before even if I’ve forgotten them on a conscious level, will automatically seize on the novel.

“Other times, such as when I’m involved in a conversation and someone is taking a long time to say a simple thing, my brain will filter out everything the person is saying except the one important bit. Other times my brain will just not focus at all or very poorly all around no matter what I do. So I think the most frustrating thing is when my mind cannot control my brain!”

– Carrie, Aspie from USA

• To mainly be interested in paying attention to things that are useful, interesting and relevant to that particular individual, I consider perfectly normal. Some of us have a harder time forcing ourselves to take in something we’re just not interested in.

“How can the attention mechanism be at fault if attention is consistently doing its job by pointing at things of interest? If attention is not fixating on some task, is not the task somehow incompatible with the person or vice versa, but the attention mechanism itself most likely operating just fine?”

– Ric, ADHD/Aspie from USA

“Sometimes I have no problem concentrating on things like washing up or cleaning. Sometimes I have problems concentrating on just getting out of bed – since I have something else that is more important to concentrate on.

“Isn’t everyone concentrated on that which for them is most important at that particular time? If a gnu that is being hunted by a lion is not able to concentrate on how its hair looks, does that mean it has a concentration difficulty? How can anyone concentrate on something if you think something else is more important? Can real people do that?”

– Stefan, Aspie from Sweden

• In learning situations, I suspect that everyone has a built-in guide/intuition that will make them interested primarily in the things that will be useful to us later in life – if we’re allowed to go where our interest takes us.

“Throughout my life my interests went from biology to chemistry to geology to meteorology to archaeology to anthropology to environmental science to environmentalism and now to zoology. And I think my true interest is in preserving and maintaining the ecology and animals that are left on earth, and everything that came before was background exploration that caused me to zero in on where I am now. All of that background helped immensely, because all of it applies to my area of interest.”

– Tom, Aspie from USA

• It may also be that the things one feels an in instinctive aversion for are things that will only use up valuable ‘hard drive’ space in the head, and be more of a hindrance than an asset in life. So why not use each person’s own interest as a guide and let them skip the subjects that only feel tiresome? For those children who are born to be specialists, it may be extra essential to not have them waste precious time trying learn subjects which feel irrelevant/uninteresting/uncomfortable to study. To be forced to learn things one is not interested in is even counterproductive to learning and performing well, since we do these things best when we feel interest, joy and inspiration.

“School – I’ve always felt it was pointless to spend so much time learning things that will never be of substantial use to me in the real world. “There literally is no point to schoolwork.  To this day I think it was a load of crap, and I am a college graduate with some graduate school experience. The only stuff I ever got any use out of was probably home economics, health, some math, English, and whatever sort of classes supported my hobbies and interests. But to date I haven’t used a quadratic equation in real life, nor have I used my extensive but useless knowledge of physics to build a proton accelerator in my basement, and yadda yadda yadda.”

– Tom, adult Aspie from USA

In some cases it may be that it is a useful and interesting subject, but that it is taught in the wrong way, at the wrong time (too early or too late for one’s need) or that it’s too difficult or too easy for one’s stage of development/skill in that particular subject. Being stuffed with the wrong type of info too early will most likely only lead to ‘mental indigestion’ since one’s mind may not yet be able to process that info correctly. The precise time when one feels the strongest interest is usually the exact right time for learning it, since that’s when one’s mind is open and eager and will most easily absorb it. Doesn’t getting to learn it right then seem like the most logical and efficient thing to do?

Being forced to take in history and social/political subjects as early as 4th grade was absolutely horrid for me since we were just fed a jumble of events without being given the bigger context first in which to place these events, and since I lacked enough life experience to evaluate them correctly. Not until in my mid 20’s did I start feeling ready for and take an interest in such subjects. And at the same time, I was very frustrated to not get to learn English until 4th grade. By then, I had already learned it myself and kept being years ahead of my class all through school; in essence hardly ever learning anything I didn’t already know. 😦

– Ing, site author

In other cases, concentration difficulties may have physical/sensory/environmental reasons like diet, allergy, fatigue, dehydration, sensitivity to fluorescent lights, noise, stress, smells, interruptions, poor ventilation, movement in the room etc. that makes it hard to focus even on topics of interest.

“One needs to consider that attention deficit is very common when one is thinking so fast, and is sensitive to all sorts of sensory impressions without the possibility of shutting them out.”

– Carl, Aspie Mensa member from Denmark

“I would have to sit in the front row of my classes because anywhere else I would see people jiggling or chewing gum. Both of those would really distract me and I wouldn’t be able to focus on the lecture.”

– William, Aspie from USA

“i find that i can think better in a dark room. i read with me lights off and just a candle in me room.”

– Martka, adolescent HFA from Scotland

“Many Aspies don’t like bright lights, loud noises, smells, proximity to other people, and having their routines (subject matter of lessons) being shifted around every day. Yet, this is ALL that school is. Perhaps a more structured environment -such as home schooling- is needed.”

– Tom, Aspie from USA

I find it exceedingly difficult to concentrate on anything if I am not totally alone! I don’t know how I survived school. I think I just turned off and postponed feeling harmonious for another decade or two. I used to also have serious concentration difficulties when I ate huge amounts of sugar and had to work under bright fluorescents.

– Ing, site author

• Some concentration difficulties may be due to having a very rich inner world, vivid imagination, hyper-reactive association ability or analysing temperament.

“I can’t stay focussed on a narrative without involuntary mental leaps into other thoughts linked to something in the narrative, and stop taking in the narrative then return to it with a jolt and scramble to recover the gist of it.”

– Maurice, Aspie from Scotland

“Reading can be a chore sometimes as well. That is usually because I get distracted by the way what I am reading synthesizes with what I already know. For example, if I am reading something about the Civil War, I’ll have thoughts about tactics of the time and how I would have done things rolling around in my head. When reading fiction, I end up thinking how I would have told the story a little differently or if one of my characters had been in there.”

– William, Aspie from USA

• Sometimes the person really is paying attention to a teacher or other person talking, but appears not to be.

“In school I used to carve totem poles out of my pencils. Or drill holes in the outgrown part of my nails, or study geometrical shapes in the classroom, Also wiggling on my chair and other things in order to endure lessons. The teacher pointed out to my parents that it was amazing that I had learned anything since they ‘knew’ I hadn’t been paying attention to what was said in class. They obviously believed that if you watch a geometric shape, you can’t hear what they’re saying???”

– Emma, Aspie from Sweden

• Autistic children are also known to have better peripheral vision straight focus, and to notice every little detail even when they don’t seem to be paying attention at all.

• Some Aspies may get an ADD diagnosis because they naturally concentrate (hyperfocus) ‘too well’ on subjects of their own choice and can’t (or won’t) switch focus upon command.

“When I work, I WORK. Aspies like to work from beginning to end, I think, and we generally don’t like getting interrupted until we are finished.”

– Tom, adult Aspie from USA

• While some with real ADD, who have much genuine trouble focusing, even on things of interest, may be thought to have AS because they compensate by learning to hyperfocus as a coping mechanism.

“ADD suffererers will sometimes hyperfocus on a desired subject in order to accomplish a task. This is very similar to ‘paying attention’ as non-ADD people will do. With so many distractions, we have to narrow our field of attention to a specific task, blocking out distractions like a person might block out the cold weather by pulling a blanket closer around them. This level of concentration far exceeds what a non-ADD person has to do because the ADD person has to not only concentrate on the subject, they also have to concentrate on blocking out other distractions. This level of concentration is an acquired skill. It is one of the methods that Adult ADD sufferers develop as a means of coping with ADD. This coping strategy is rarely, if ever, taught in a school, instead it is learned by experience.”

– ‘Mr Perky’, adult with ADD

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