How to cope with a misunderstanding due to hyper focusing

 How to cope with a misunderstanding due to hyper focusing

Having four children, arguments happen often.  Most of these are a result of some misunderstanding.  Though they have not lived a day apart, living in a neurodiverse family can prove difficult at times.  Having three children with autism and one without makes for humorous misunderstandings!  So as you can imagine, having misunderstanding due to hyper-focusing happens quite often.  Today was one of those days.

Our son was napping for once (yeah me!) and the girls were all outside playing with neighbor children.  The next thing I know, our youngest daughter Bean came storming crying.  As this happens often (she has autism, and meltdowns are still quite common), I asked the typical “What’s happened now” line.  Before you judge me for being insensitive, remember I have four kids, lol!

Anyways, this time she didn’t start with the typical screaming that her sister did something to her or took something.  Bean yelled that she didn’t want to talk about it and stormed off to her room.  Since this doesn’t happen often, so I decided to take the opportunity to ask her sister what happened.

After gathering the sister’s sides, I came to find out that they were playing a game in which they were singing a song.  Her sister had messed up and wanted to restart.  She explained to me that she doesn’t like starting mid-way through a song because she gets lost easy.  Reasonable enough request, right?  Well, this is where some of those misunderstandings came in.

Bean, didn’t hear her any of the first three times she tried to tell her. She only heard her when her sister yelled at her out of frustration.  She didn’t understand what had happened, only that her sister yelled at her for no reason and was quitting the game.  Though that wasn’t real, that’s how she perceived it.  This simple misunderstanding led to instant heartache!

How to cope with a misunderstanding due to hyper focusing

Misunderstanding due to Hyper focusing

One major aspect a lot of children with autism is focusing on issues (both over and under-focusing).  For both of mine, they have issues with hyper-focusing.  This basically means that they become so focused on what has caught their interest.  So for our son, if he is doing something and you call his name five plus times, he may not hear you at all. With Bean, she is also ADHD so it means she will continue rambling on with what she was talking about or doing and not hear you.

For today’s misunderstanding, I was able to explain to Bean that her sister has a hard time restarting songs.  She immediately felt compassion for her sister as she feels the same way.  I also let her know her sister had tried to tell her four times total.  Bean told me she only heard her once.  She has a better understanding that she doesn’t always hear people when they speak.  As soon as she understood what had happened, she was quick to say sorry and go back to playing.

How to cope with a misunderstanding due to hyper focusing

Coping with a misunderstanding due to hyper focusing can prove difficult to the most experienced parent.  The first step is staying calming and not siding with either child.  Let the child who is upset begin to calm down before attempting to resolve the issue.  During that time, speak with the other children involved.  After they express their side, ask them what they think their sibling might say happened.  This helps give them the opportunity to see it from the other side.  Remind them, that sometimes they may have to repeat themselves several times before their sibling answers.  Though it may be frustrating, they cannot raise their voice or be mean to them because they didn’t hear them.  Sometimes, they also may need to wait until their sibling has completed a sentence or what they are doing before trying again.

After speaking with that child, now it is time to speak to the other.  Hopefully, by now, some of the tears and screaming has calmed down.  If it has not, first work with them on a calming technique that work for them.   Once calm, explain that you think there may be an understanding but you want to hear their side of it too.  Ask if they would like you to let them know what their sibling said first, or if they would like to tell their side.  Most of the time, children want to know what the sibling said.  Explain in a nice way that you think there was a misunderstanding because (fill in reason here) and you might not have heard them the first few times.  If it is a misunderstanding due to hyper focusing, chances are them realizing it from the way you just explained it will calm them down almost immediately.  If not, answer their questions in positive ways and ask if there is any ways they would like you to help them resolve the issue.

What are some of the misunderstanding due to hyper focusing that have happened in your home?  Leave them in the comments below


Alicia Trautwein is an autism parenting coach living in Missouri. She is the creator behind The Mom Kind, a website dedicated to parenting neurodiverse families.  She is featured in the "Amazing Moms" coffee table book by Hogan Hilling & Dr. Elise Ho.  She shares her expertise along with her experience in parenting children, both with and without autism.

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