Hyperfixation can be seen as a special interest taken to an extreme. If frequent hyperfixation is causing your stress, a therapist can help you develop coping mechanisms.

You’ll often hear the terms “special interest” and “hyperfixation” used when talking about autism or ADHD.

It’s common for people to use the terms together, so it’s easy to think they have the same meaning. However, there’s an important difference between the two.

The terms special interest and hyperfixation are sometimes used interchangeably, but they don’t actually mean the same thing.

A special interest is a very focused interest in a particular topic. The topic of special interests can be just about anything, including specific academic areas, pieces of media, historical events, and more.

For some people, special interests become important throughout their lives, influencing career choices and social circles.

Hyperfixation is absorption in a task. People with hyperfixation might appear to completely ignore everything else around them in favor of their focus.

Typically, hyperfixation is dedicated to something you already find interesting or enjoyable. You might increase your knowledge of the subject or improve your performance during hyperfixation.

This means that special interests and hyperfixation could happen at the same time, even though they are not the same thing.

For instance, someone who had a special interest in a specific historical time period and purchased a new book about that time period might become completely absorbed until they finished. They might skip meals and ignore phone calls while they read. Reading the new book would be hyperfixation.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell the difference between enjoying something and hyperfixation.

Signs that something is becoming hyperfixation include:

  • losing track of time while engaging with the interest
  • feeling as if you are “tuning out” the world around you
  • forgetting to eat, sleep, or fulfill daily hygiene activities
  • losing track of important responsibilities like paying bills
  • becoming less self-aware as you engage with your interest
  • being less aware of others when you engage with your interest
  • feeling as if your actions related to your interest are out of your control

Occasional and temporary hyperfixation happens to nearly everyone. It’s not a sign of anything on its own.

But people with certain conditions are more likely to experience hyperfixation, including:

Hyperfixation is typically more intense and more frequent for people with these conditions.

If hyperfixation is disrupting your daily life or causing you stress, talking with someone who can help can be a good idea. A therapist may help you manage hyperfixation.

You can find a therapist by talking with your primary doctor or by checking out any of these resources:

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): You can contact SAMSHA 24/7 to connect with therapists in your area. You can use their website or call their free helpline at 1 (800) 273-8255.
  • Online therapy: Online therapy platforms can help you get counseling in the privacy of your home. You can read our roundup of online providers.
  • Your insurance provider: If you have insurance, you can call your plan or go to your plan’s website to see what professionals are available to you.
  • Community health centers: If you don’t have insurance, a local community health center might be a good option. Community health centers are federally funded and offer sliding-scale payment options. You can find health centers in your area using this locator.

Hyperfixation and special interests are similar and can overlap — but they are not the same thing.

A special interest is a specific interest in a topic. Hyperfixation is absorption in a task or activity, often related to someone’s interests or passions.

Typically, when someone is experiencing hyperfixation, they lose track of time and might tune out the world around them. Occasionally, having hyperfixation is not a sign of anything. But if repeated and intense hyperfixation causes you stress, therapy can help.