We’ve discussed attention as it relates to ADHD before, but we never really dove into it in dull, dry boring detail, did we?
Likely that’s because it is difficult to maintain my attention long enough to explain the thing.
Attention is thought by many to be the ability to stay focused on something, and for most situations, we can assume that to be an adequate working construct.
But attention is, in reality, more fluid than this definition would lead us to believe.
Attentional flow is the way in which our minds switch attention from the point that has been dealt with to the next logical step.
Let’s consider a simplistic example, coloring a picture. As a two yer old, one could expect a monochromatic choice of the favorite color and a scribbling across lines to indicate that they know what they are doing and they believe they are adding to the image.
By the age of five a child has probably determined the purpose of the lines and has recognized the significance of color choice. But still, mistakes are made. Some might say that these should not be pointed out as that would inhibit artistic license. I say, let’s talk about that on your time, this is about attention and you can’t distract me that easily.
What’s happening in the coloring world?
In our example above, the two year old child has likely been handed a crayon, and had a piece of paper placed in front of them and been given an example of coloring either by an adult demonstrating or siblings and peers doing the same. They are going through the motions.
The five year old child has studied the process over time and is aware of what is expected. They have gotten to the point where they can see an area of the image that requires a color, they can see the color they assume is needed and they will select that color and fill the area in.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Pay attention now …
Once that area has been filled in to the artists satisfaction, their attention must shift.
It may shift to the activity of looking for other parts of the picture that require the same color, or it may shift to the next most interesting part of the picture thus causing a new color selection, but shift it must once they acknowledge the last task is complete.
But what has this to do with ADHD?
With ADHD the shift can be more extreme. The person with ADHD might look for other pictures in the same book where they can use the same color. They may look for another book.
They may look at the crayon colors and select a rainbow of them that they feel look good together and not bother coloring at all.
They may find a blank paper and try to draw a rainbow with all the crayons at once. They may set the crayons down near the place where they went looking for a blank page and start looking at a book, or a toy, or an empty unmarked cardboard box.
The problem is …
People with ADHD pay constant attention. People with ADHD can change the focus of their attention. People with ADHD can hyper focus (though usually this is not controlled).
But during attentional flow, at the point when focus must be changed, when attention must switch from one task to the next, there is a very good chance that the person with ADHD will not switch to what would be considered by others to be the next logical point of focus.
Welcome to my world.