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Is It ADHD Perseveration or Hyperfocus?

People with ADHD sometimes exhibit signs of perseveration, which is sometimes confused with hyperfocus. Read more to learn about perseveration and ADHD.

I first heard the term “perseveration” in a lecture by psychologist Russell Barkley about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and hyperfocus.1 People with ADHD struggle with boredom, but they can often focus on things they enjoy. In fact, they can focus too much, obsessing over one thing and ignoring other subjects and tasks. Barkley suggests that ADHDers do not hyperfocus, as people with autism do, but perseverate. He defines perseveration as the inability to stop doing an activity at an appropriate time.

ADHD, Perseveration, and Hyperfocus

Many ADHDers describe their ability to hyperfocus as a superpower, but Barkley states that perseveration in ADHD is never an asset. I do not necessarily agree with him because people with ADHD can create, accomplish, and discover great things due to their obsessions. However, it is true that hyperfocusing can create burnout and make people less productive than if they were able to approach tasks in a more balanced manner.

Discussing Perseveration and ADHD

Barkley’s comment got me thinking about what perseveration actually is and how it applies to those with and without ADHD. In the video, I talk about the definition of perseveration and some of its symptoms (such as repeating the same gesture, behavior, phrase, or word).


  1. Russell Barkley. Dr. Russell Barkley and ADHD Hyperfocus.

Merriam-Webster. Definition of Perseverance.

Snagglebox: Autism Resources and Support. Bec Oakley. What’s the Deal with Perseveration?

Author: Noelle Matteson

Find Noelle on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and her blog.

4 thoughts on “Is It ADHD Perseveration or Hyperfocus?”

  1. Hi! My 8 year old son get “stuck” on topics that change every few months or so….last month it was Pokémon, then nerf guns, then geodes and now we are transitioning into dinosaurs. Although he was diagnosed with ADHD in kinder, this behavior has been going on for years and I never really knew it was a “thing”. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been seeing. Hoping to get him some help before it hinders him socially as he gets older.

  2. r perseveration – I discovered this site last evening. I have watched your video and it is so helpful to me. My primary therapist has observed and spoken with me about my becoming “obsessed” wiith one thought, idea, or subject for extensively long periods of time. The first time she noticed was as I was reading a book – Smilla’s Sense of Snow. I began to develop a geographical interest in Nuuk, Greenland. I was legally prepared to change my name to Smilla Jasperson. It was really bizarre. Other obsessions were about The Humane Society of the United States and CARE. I adopted a dog and we were together for 5 yrs until I became so physically ill that it was negatively effecting her needs as a dog. Thank you for sharing this info. I’m going to share it with my therapist.

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