Focus and Neurodiversity

“You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
~Mark Twain


I was recently listening to a podcast where one of the world’s most renowned experts was focused on being interviewed, Dr. Amishi Jha.

Having friends and family members with ADHD I can recall hundreds of times people would say things like, “If you would only focus, you could be successful.” As though the person could manifest new neural pathways just by the mere suggestion of it.

Focus. We talk so much about the lack of it.  We should take time to learn what and how focus is defined. 

What is focus?


    1. the center of interest or activity.
    2. the state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition.


    1. (Of a person or their eyes) adapt to the prevailing level of light and become able to see clearly.
    2. pay particular attention to.

Dr. Amishi Jha shared a lot of really interesting points that the research has uncovered about focus.

Attention – Our brain’s capacity to prioritize some information over other information.

There are three subcategories of that:

  1. Focus-prioritizing something as more important than other things. It is how we get better results.

Think of a flashlight and wherever you shine the light you focus on that stuff.

It can be internal or external focus

Focus is finite, it has boundaries 

2. Alert System – when you widen your attention because of an alert, like flashing lights ahead while driving. You widen your attention to take more information in.  The detail of the information is low quality because it is so much information.

Very much in the present moment.

3. Executive Control – this is where you prioritize based on goals.  Multi-tasking (task switching) kills the executive focus center.

 “In order to retain a memory, you have to be paying attention to the thing you are trying or want to remember.”  Dr. Amishi Jha

We need our attention to:

  • Think and process
  • Feel and regulate emotions
  • Connection with others
  • Performance

 When our attention is fragmented like my attention has been while trying to type this.  It happens to be the NFL draft tonight and my husband’s favorite team, just traded their first-round draft pick for a later pick and he has been in and out of my office sharing all of the details with me.  That is fragmented attention. When we have fragmented attention, we are not able to retain many of the details.

 Here is where I thought it got really interesting and thought it related to a neurodiverse mind.

 Our attention is compromised when any of these items are present:

  • Stress
  • Threat
  • Negative Mood

 So often all of those things are present in a person with ADHD, Dyslexia or Autism. It really presents like a compound effect is happening and we don’t even know it.


Medical News Today had some numbers to add to this.

“People with dyslexia often find it hard to concentrate. This may be because, after a few minutes of struggling to read or write, they feel mentally exhausted.

Also, compared with the general population, a higher number of children with dyslexia also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to some estimates, 30% of those with dyslexia also have ADHD, compared with 3–5% of the general school population experiencing both conditions.”


 What I have learned about focus is that it can be expanded, that everyone has different levels of it available to them, and that focus looks different in everyone. It feels like when we talk about focus or attention in school or at work we are talking about productivity. While I am a fan of being productive, a person’s ability to produce is not the sole measure of their worth. Maybe we could stop using the same measuring stick for every human being and maybe we could start to understand each other a little more and measure our worth by a combination of skills and not just one or two. 

To shift my situation, I am going to hang out at my office more at BadCat Digital. The group of people working there is fun and highly focused. They have high executive skills with time management. I know from my days in college that when I am around people that naturally have time management and priority skills, they help me to mirror their behavior, just by their presence. This is also a reminder of why you hire for your weaknesses.

After listening to the podcast and doing some of my own research I was able to identify that I struggle with a level of executive focus. I am not always able to harness my energy and attention on the most important tasks. I can be distracted by an email from a client with a minor website edit that I could do later in the evening when my time is not so precious. I have really started to notice the variations in my clients as they work on growing themselves and understanding their gifts and weaknesses. I don’t see this as always being a weakness, there are times when it is good I can take in all the things that need to be done and just dive into whatever is in front of me.

The most important point I am hoping you take away from this is that focus is limited and finite. You cannot multitask, you can task switch

When we think we’re doing multiple things at once, instead we engage in a task, and then we disengage in the task, we move into the other task, and then we disengage, and then we move it again, so we’re doing task switches over and over again. This is exhaustive. The more we switch the more depleted we become.

Focus and attention are affected by stress, threat, and negative mood, so take care of your brain and your mental balance. 

What new way of working on your projects today can you try?



JoyGenea Schumer
Business Owner, International Neurodiversity Coach and Speaker

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