The Autistic Strength of Focus

When considering our strengths, as we were at the end of the last post, one strength that many autistic people identify is that given chance they love to concentrate on a topic and give it their focused attention. As autistic individuals we have the ability to focus very strongly, in a very concerted way. This is a powerful strength because it means that we don’t mind solitude. In fact, focus and solitude can be keys for us to build resilience.

Autistic individuals can get deeply absorbed when they focus

Some can get easily absorbed into a state of mindfulness by performing activities such as colouring of a complex pattern. Similarly when doing relaxation exercises, it can sometimes be easier for autistic people to get into them and focus deeply on things like our breathing and our muscles. However, personally I have found myself twitching and jerking when doing this, which might be related to a need to “stim” or self-stimulate although I don’t have this need as much as some - some who for instance often carry fidget toys to help them concentrate. Nevertheless I have found it possible to enter deeply relaxing and calming states in relaxation and have other profound awe-inspiring moments in meditation or contemplative prayer or even just listening to music.

Autistic people can use their great strength of attention to detail in careers such as computer programming, in writing and in creating art work for example. Here a project can take quite a lot of time to work through and we may not discouraged by that. Also we may have less of the need than some others to get up to go to the water cooler simply to chat with people. In fact the very thing we are focused on is the thing that we do have a need for. We can feel the need to draw closer to what we are thinking about - to give it greater attention and to explore the topic or problem that we are solving. We can lose ourselves in what we are doing but come away with our sense of self strengthened by the experience. That is why focusing on an activity or special interests can be so important to us and help us to find calm, peace and wholeness.,

We can be on our own for some time and be persistent in thinking about an issue or working through a problem that takes time, effort and attention to detail. Though we can struggle if an area doesn’t interest us, when it does we can excel at it. For example, we might find it difficult to be motivated to draw up a personal budget even though we have the knowledge and skills to do this, simply because it is not interesting enough. This means that when looking for work it even more important for autistic people to find something that interests them.

Focus does not necessary mean unfriendly

Our desire to focus in solitude doesn’t mean we don’t see an importance in relating to people. We often see a great importance, especially in relating to those who have been marginalised in some way. We will come to that in later posts. It’s just that we often enjoy focusing in this way and when we do we can achieve quite a lot. Sometimes we might not appear to achieve much when we are thinking through a lot of things, and exploring the complexities of our inner thoughts but actually we are processing a lot of detail. What we are not doing is rushing to the end. We are considering our workings out carefully and logically.

This can make us an important addition to a team where problem solving that require detailed attention is needed. However, there may be challenges in communication when we are working in teams, but if we can get very clear explanations or instructions then we can go away and focus on the problem knowing that we are giving our time and using our strength of focus well.

Focus can have its downside

Sometimes focus can be a weakness because everyday life includes switching our attention. In life there are continual interruptions, which can be quite frustrating and lead to us finding it difficult to concentrate. When we are in the flow and concentrating we can achieve a lot but we have lots of small tasks to do, or we are trying to focus on multiple tasks at the same time, we can find difficult. The multi-tasking required in driving, for example, can be a challenge to many.

Also we may be quite bad at taking necessary breaks as our work or interest can become addictive. If we are not careful this can lead to exhaustion.

So to summarise

If you give us one task we are interested in to focus on, and we can spend time continuously on that one task then we will often do that well. Whether that is spending time in meditation, spending time in reading, spending time in work, we find we can often achieve quite a lot. Though we tend to have less of a need to socialise our focus means we can make a great addition to a team. In some circumstances we may find it hard to concentrate but generally, our focus is very powerful and is a strength to be celebrated.

We would love to hear how much these observations resonates with your own experiences or someone you know on the autistic spectrum. Perhaps you could spend some time thinking about the times of deep focus and times when it is hard to concentrate and why you think that might be. Please let us know if these ideas ring true.