The word perseveration, is similar to, and connected with, the word perseverance. However, whereas the latter conjures positive associations – indicating persistence, not giving up until something is achieved, perseveration describes either the act of continuing even after something has been achieved or not being able to stop persisting even if the goal is unachievable. It also tends to be associated with negative thoughts, that we just can’t move away from.

For this reason, perseveration is very commonly used as a word to describe the actions of autistics and ADHDers. This is a tricky one as there is a lot of overlap in meaning between all of the following:

Three out of the five of these terms refer to us being able to gain a lot of knowledge, and make progress very quickly, We know our subject inside out and frequently enjoy telling anyone who will listen about it! This is because we can exclude everything else around us and give that task our absolute concentration – our hyperfocus, hyperfixation, special interest.

Perseveration and looping, on the other hand, are terms more widely used by medical professionals and academics, rather than the neurodivergent community, and it is the most negatively associated. The other three, whilst also coming under a fair bit of negative attention for preventing us from being able to complete other important (often incredibly boring) tasks, do describe the ability to achieve something, even if if it often is at the expense of other tasks.

Hyperfixation is used by some authors to mean the same as hyperfocus. Other authors claim that hyperfixation is the ADHD equivalent of hyperfocus, and that it has less of a positive outcome, in that ADHDers then struggle with task switching.

Perseveration describes our inability to move on, if you like, to leave a task behind. Whether its a rumination, a problem, a question, a frustration, a physical task – anything at all really. It is often described as being ‘stuck’, perhaps like listening to the needle on a scratched record: it’s stuck, with no hope of continuing to play the music, and unable to reach the end, however long we wait. It just goes round and round and round – bump-ba-da-bump-ba-da-bump.

We can go over and over the same issue in our minds, in conversation, after the conversation, into another unrelated conversation. We can keep repeating the same action as if it is magically going to work on the 27th time around. It doesn’t. So, it’s easier now to see the distinction between sitting down and spending four hours on one of our special interests, beautifully absorbed and content, and spending four hours looking through the same two drawers in the kitchen for the birthday candles that we just cannot accept are not there, even though they’re definitely not there!

Perseveration is experienced by a wide range of people, not only ADHDers and autistics. but also those who have experienced brain trauma. It’s often associated with OCD, though there is a great deal of counterargument to suggest this is not the same thing. Children across the whole of neurodiversity (everyone in the world) perseverate. We’re not so very different, we’re just already under the spotlight.

As you will see from these brief articles ← click here and → here, there really is no agreement on what each of these five interrelated words mean, which groups of neurodivergents they specifically apply to and which are the ones we can be proud of and which are used to explain unhelpful behaviours. With that in mind, the choice is yours, as always – it’s whatever you feel most comfortable with.