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Is It OCD…Or Just Hyperfocus?

Sometimes Natalie’s hyperfocus seems like obsession.

The line between ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is still blurry to me at times. Last weekend, when Natalie visited Aunt Ann’s house for a respite weekend, Ann called me to check in. She showed Natalie how to squeeze the seed pod on an impatiens plant to make the seeds shoot out. Nat was almost scared at first, Ann said, then she tried it herself, and…she was hooked. She spent nearly two hours scouring Ann’s flower beds, pots, and hanging baskets for seed pods.

“It was okay at first, but now it seems a little OCD,” Ann told me. “What do you think she’ll do when she can’t find any more?” Welcome to hyperfocus, I thought. Or, is it OCD?

I reread Dr. Larry Silverman’s article, “Is it ADHD or OCD — or Both?” in order to find out, and I believe that, in this case, it was hyperfocus, not OCD. Natalie certainly was being obsessive, using the word as an adjective, but not Obsessive with a capital O, as in a clinical diagnosis.

Here’s another example of where Nat is lowercase o-obsessive and lowercase c-compulsive, without the uppercase D-Disorder. Natalie is sometimes simply driven in her desire to play with 5-year-old William, who lives down the street. But she wants to play her way; to play teacher or babysitter to his baby. William doesn’t want to be the baby; he wants Natalie to treat him as a peer. Natalie just can’t let go of her desire for William to play her way. She picks him up, steers him when he walks, and yells at him. She inevitably escalates into treating him roughly.

Talking to Natalie about it doesn’t help. I’ve tried taking away the privilege of playing with him for three days. No change. The next time it was a whole week. As soon as she saw William again, she started in with her demands again. Now, well…I don’t know if I can ever let her play with William again. She can’t seem to “stop and think” or “change the channel” no matter what the consequences, and I just can’t allow her to treat him roughly. This really is a compulsion, although probably a lowercase c one.

Parents, does hyperfocus ever seem OCDish in your child with ADHD?

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