Hyperfocusing, and missing the big picture

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serenity
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16 Jan 2008, 10:30 am

The question "did you just see that!" almost always gets the response of no from me. I'm not sure if this has anything at all to do with AS, but I was wondering if anyone else has this problem, and more importantly if they have figured out any useful coping strategies.

It's like I'm always focusing on a different detail than those around me, and my mind gets so wrapped up in what I'm focusing on that it blocks everything else out. In my younger years I have missed out on people approaching me to say hi, because I was hyperfocusing on the person in the group that was speaking, or some other minor detail. It was very embarrassing to be told after the fact by friends that I had ignored a guy trying to ask me out, or appeared like a complete snob to a friendly aquaintance for not returning a hello. I thought for a long time that there must be something wrong with my hearing, because I can't seem to hear people speaking when there's a lot of noise, or movement around me.

This problem is visual, too. It's as if I block out 2/3 of my environment. It has affected my work performance, because I ignored my boss when they were trying to speak to me, or I didn't stop someone from shoplifting when they were doing it right in front of my face. It affects my driving, because I can't seem to filter out the unimportant details from the important ones.

On the upside, I do catch seemingly minor details that others miss that in some situations are important. That doesn't happen very often, though.



sartresue
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16 Jan 2008, 11:16 am

What is the big idea? topic

I can empathize with you, Serenity.

This is exactly what happens to me, and it has cost me chances at interviews and jobs. It is as if we try so hard that we miss the forest and just see trees. I can see the big picture on paper but not in practical living. I am very sorry this is troubling you. NTs are often not patient enough to understand how hard it is to see the big picture.


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poopylungstuffing
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16 Jan 2008, 11:41 am

happens to me constantly....



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16 Jan 2008, 12:24 pm

Oh! Thank you for giving me the words to describe this. I do this most of all when there is too much sensory input for me to handle or when I am around too many people who are outside my (very small) comfort group. ("Too many" meaning... one or more. :wink: ) I always disliked it as a preschool teacher when the kids' parents would stay for a while in the classroom. When I have to concentrate on talking to a not-so-familiar adult, it's excruciatingly difficult for me to keep a grasp on my surroundings at the same time. When I am only around children and adults I know very well, it is much better.


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16 Jan 2008, 12:47 pm

I can relate. Once I was at the mall and hyperfocusing so much on walking toward a rack of Hello Kitty items (one of my obsessions) that I completely missed the girl on the floor next to me having a diabetic seizure. My boyfriend said I practically stepped over her.


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16 Jan 2008, 3:57 pm

I know what you mean. I think it's the visual equivalent of Audio Processing Disorder (which I'm pretty sure I have), if I'm not concentrating on a certain thing, I won't see it. The visual signals come into my brain, but I don't process them, and so don't experience the thing. It's worst with things which are fast. If it's over before I've realised it's happening, I won't notice it at all.
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serenity
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16 Jan 2008, 4:39 pm

sartresue wrote:
What is the big idea? topic

I can empathize with you, Serenity.

This is exactly what happens to me, and it has cost me chances at interviews and jobs. It is as if we try so hard that we miss the forest and just see trees. I can see the big picture on paper but not in practical living. I am very sorry this is troubling you. NTs are often not patient enough to understand how hard it is to see the big picture.


Thank you for your kind words.

That's why I love this forum! Even if no one else has the solution to a problem, someone will be able to relate, and or offer support. I try to do the same in return when I can.

I think mmaestro is right. It's like some kind of visual processing disorder. It's as if my brain is a computer that doesn't have enough RAM. I can only do one thing at a time. Everything else is ignored, or left to be focused on later.



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16 Jan 2008, 6:03 pm

Completely understand. Not just visually either, but concepts I fail to grasp properly, or figures of speech, or when people say something and I take it too literally and miss the wider meaning... ugh.


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17 Jan 2008, 11:25 am

*Raises hand.

I once wrote to my doctor, "I could literally walk past a grizzly bear and not see it." For me, it seems less a problem of 'gestalt' or 'big picture', or more just sensory flooding : There is too much visual information coming in, and i can only make out about 10% of it. I heard another Autie refer to this as the "picasso effect."

This has made it difficult for me to drive in cities, tho i'm OK in the burbs. I'm also not exactly a guy you want on your soccer team :)

As for missing the big picture, this was a trait originally attributed to Aspies, but later found not to hold. People saw Aspies tightly focussed in on one thing, and missing all sorts of other things, and naturally concluded we're not 'big picture people'. This was given the phrase Weak Central Coherence. I think many of us began to think of ourselves this way.

When researchers went out to validate this theory, however, they found just the opposite. In fact, Aspies and HFA folk seem to have a higher degree of 'fluid intelilgence', and can switch more readily from big-picture to detail and back again. Aspies just lack 'sensory integration filters' which NT's have. Which is nice to know, even if it's no help on the soccer field.To speculate a bit; it may b that Aspies have recycled sensory-integration tissue into functional areas which are more relevant to our current stage in evolution. It's much more important these days to remember, to analyze and to invent than it is to see seven gazelle at a glance.



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17 Jan 2008, 1:18 pm

Hmm. For me, when it happens, I never realise it's happened till it does. It's usually when I'm distracted though and thinking about 'bigger things', or when there is sensory overload, like yesterday at work (radio on, tv on, 8 people in the office talking at once, fluorescent lights, too much stuff around me on my desk, too many things to do...).

I didn't actually know it was meant to be an aspie trait so that didn't have anything to do with me thinking it about myself!!

It's not always that it happens; there are times when I think I see the bigger picture better than any of my NT mates, but I seem to go from one extreme to the other.


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17 Jan 2008, 7:44 pm

This has happened to ME also. Sometimes EVERYONE laughs! They can yell, scream, almost block me, and it is like I only see what I need to to do the task.

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17 Jan 2008, 10:14 pm

I'm always like that. My best friend often says, "Hey, did you see that?" And I'm like, "See what?"
And then he remembers who he's talking to, and he's like, "Oh.. right", and points out whatever it was he was talking about. He's still amazed that I can drive past a place every single day and never notice it exists until the day comes when I actually need to go there.


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18 Jan 2008, 11:35 am

I hate that yperfocusing thing, it's really frustrating and occasionally quite embarrassing. I once took someone on a tour of our building at work and as I was showing them around a colleague came up and whispered in my ear, "you might want to do this some other time". She pointed down the hall where an irate man was apparently threatening people with a pool cue while two security officers tried to deal with the situation. I hadn't even noticed since I was focused on making my little speech to the person I was with.