ADHD and Special Interests

The ADHD Cycle Of A Special Interest

If you're navigating life with ADHD, you're probably no stranger to the enchanting cycle of 'special interests.' These aren't just any interests – they're the ones that make your heart race and your focus laser-sharp. From diving headfirst into a favorite topic to getting lost in hyperfocus, the endless cycle of passion projects can keep us hooked - until the next one arrives. 

Of course, neurotypical people can have an intense interest, too - and they can affect kids and adults alike. But for those of us with ADHD, we often get stuck in a ‘loop’ of these interests. So, what does this endless loop look like, and what’s the pattern? Let’s dive in.

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Having A Special Interest With ADHD vs Autism Spectrum Disorder

Sometimes, different mental health conditions and neurodevelopmental disorders share common traits, behaviors, or symptoms. This can make it challenging to establish an official diagnosis, as overlapping symptoms can be confused with each other. This can happen in regards to having a special interest for the same reason. People with ADHD often experience hyperfocus or can become obsessed with a specific activity, just like those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

Hyperfocus refers to working intently on a specific task or one interest; people in ‘hyperfocus mode’ often have trouble pulling themselves away from the task and may feel unable to stop talking or thinking about it. It can become a huge part of their world, and may struggle to focus on other responsibilities such as work or school. For many neurodivergent children and adults, this can become an obsessive interest 

Having ADHD or being on the autism spectrum can make us vulnerable to getting wrapped up in an activity; for example, getting wrapped up in a video game for hours on end or obsessing over a TV show for days. Although research suggests that around half of people with autism also have ADHD, it’s important to point out that they are distinct conditions and should not be confused with each other.


People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been traditionally referred to as having 'high functioning' autism. Autistic people usually have average-to-above-average intelligence and no speech delays, depending on their unique brain development. 

ASD is also often referred to as asperger’s syndrome, or ‘high functioning’ autism. However, some autistic people object to this term, as they feel it can be harmful when used by neurotypical people to try and decide what constitutes high or low functioning.

Signs of autism can include:

  • Trouble with social skills (such as making eye contact)
  • Misunderstanding or trouble following social rules
  • Understanding nonverbal communication
  • Struggling with sensory overload
  • Exhibiting repetitive behaviors for an extended period of time (also referred to as stimming)
  • An intense fixation or attachment to a specific object (especially in autistic children)
  • Difficulty deviating from a regular routine or sudden changes

These symptoms often manifest in special interests and even obsessions. For many autistic people, these passions can be positive, as they provide a sense of routine and can foster creativity and serve as a great topic of conversation. Generally speaking, an autistic person is more likely to remain interested in something without being easily distracted. 


On the flip side, most children and adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) frequently experience issues with distraction, paying attention, sensory overload, maintaining focus and time management - just to name a few. These symptoms can make it difficult to start and maintain interests. However, it does not imply that they have little interest in most topics - quite the opposite! Initially, they often exhibit hyperfocus and an intense fascination in a subject. 

The key difference between the hyperfocus in a person with ADHD vs autism is that this behavior may be short-lived and prone to sudden changes.They might lose interest in a topic within weeks and move on to something new. 

It's crucial to note that not everyone with autism has special interests, and not all individuals with ADHD have difficulty maintaining their interests. As with anything, there can be many differences between each individual and how their symptoms manifest within their daily life.

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The Cycle Of A Special Interest In ADHD

Often, those with ADHD follow a cycle when it comes to the trajectory of a special interest. Let’s explore them stage by stage. 👇

First Stage: Growing Curiosity

growing curiosity

When adults with ADHD stumble upon something that sparks their interest, they naturally become curious about it. They may not even realize it, but they start visualizing possibilities. This initial spark leads them to talk about it incessantly for days, fueling their excitement to learn more about how this new hobby or interest can improve their lives. 💡

Second Stage: Intense Focus


This is the stage where their curiosity intensifies, and they want to dive head first into the education part, absorbing all the knowledge about their interest at once. 🔎

They become hyper focused and lose all awareness of what's around them, such as making eye contact with the people they live with or avoiding social interactions (which act as distractions). For example, those experiencing hyperfocus can spend long hours immersed in learning about their special interests without feeling fatigued. They delve into different resources, eagerly seeking more information until they are satisfied.

During this stage, dopamine can offer us many insights into what fuels the behavior within ADHD. When individuals with ADHD experience hyperfocus, their brain releases dopamine and generates pleasurable, rewarding emotions. The deeper they immerse themselves in these activities, the stronger the dopamine surge, making it easier for them to remain engaged in such tasks.

losing interest

Third Stage: Losing Interest

Unlike autistic individuals, those with an ADHD diagnosis often struggle to sustain their interest in something. This is a distinguishing factor between other diagnoses and ADHD. After a short period of satisfaction with their newfound interest, they quickly lose enthusiasm and drop the hobby or activity they initially thought would bring them joy. Some interests will last longer than others, from hours to months. 

new interest

These moments of losing interest can cause intense emotions such as shame, especially after putting in so much effort, time and (often) money - also known as the ‘ADHD tax’. 💰

important things

Fourth Stage: The Loop Begins Again

Since having special interests for adults with ADHD can be cyclical, they eventually move on to something else. For example, I spent a good amount of time learning how to crochet 🧶, but after mastering a few basic techniques, I quickly grew bored and decided to join a group teaching piano. 

I immediately visited a music store, inquired about suitable beginner instruments, and purchased a piano within a couple of days. Within a few days, that piano was sitting in the corner of my living bedroom, gathering dust. 😬

remember that ADHD is complex, and that we all face different challenges


ADHD can impact our ability to attain and sustain interests, but it's important to be patient. Individuals with ADHD can still excel in their interests and develop skills to pursue other intriguing areas in the future. While neurotypical and autistic individuals may excel in their specific crafts, many people with ADHD are like Jacks of all trades 🤾. 

They quickly become curious about various things and engage in multiple activities simultaneously without losing focus on the tasks at hand. So, next time you encounter an adult with ADHD, avoid hasty judgments. They have unique ways of perceiving the world and pursuing their interests 😘.

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ADHD Cycle of Interests: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

 Does ADHD make it hard for you to sustain an interest?

One of the biggest challenges for people with ADHD is sustaining interest. It is not for the lack of interest. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Many people with ADHD are often highly interested in many things, but they have trouble staying focused on any one thing for an extended period of time. This can lead to them bouncing from task to task without completing any of them well or truly getting to know the subject matter.

Does ADHD make it impossible for a person to focus?

Absolutely not. In fact, research has shown that a lot of people with ADHD engage in a lot of behavior called hyperfocus, meaning that when something does interest them, they can stay engrossed for hours or days at a time.

What ADHD symptoms affect our ability to sustain an interest?

If you have ADHD, it can be hard for you to sustain your interest in something because of how easily distracted you get by things around you. This can affect not only your attention on things you find boring, but also on things that are exciting. 

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