One of the unusual abilities that Aspergers (high-functioning autistic) kids have is “hyper-focus”. Like all Aspergers traits, hyper-focus is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, when combined with the special interest and Aspergers long-term memory, it is responsible for the genius label as it applies to Aspergers children. On the other, it's responsible for many learning and obedience issues.
Hyper-focus is commonly found in Aspergers kids who also have the ADD/ADHD. In recent years, the definitions of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) have merged in the medical sense under the banner of ADHD. Personally, I'm not keen on this merging of diagnosis because while the two share similar definitions, there are some fundamental differences between them. While both ADHD and ADD kids have, by definition, attention issues, the hyperactive youngster is more likely to have attention problems due to hyperactivity itself while the ADD youngster is more likely to have a hyper-focus problem.
Consider the differences between the two:
1. A youngster who does not respond when his name is called because he is distracted or is shouting and jumping from chair to chair.
2. A youngster who is intently starring at a spinning wheel, or playing with some lego bricks and does not respond when his name is repeatedly called.
Hyper-focus is possibly the cause of the problem only in the second case.
One of the basic tenants of positive parenting and positive schooling is that the obedient youngster should be rewarded. In school for example, a youngster who is obviously paying attention will receive a reward while one who is not may be rebuked or simply ignored. This technique is generally quite effective with "typical" kids.
Unfortunately, this technique does not work with hyper-focused kids who go into daydream state - or "zone out" - automatically. Zoning out is not disobedience. This youngster is not trying to be naughty - they just happen to go into that state automatically.
The best remedy for these kids is for the teacher to work more closely with them and for more one-on-one time to be allocated. In schools, this isn't always practical and hyper-focused kids can often miss out on necessary attention and can fall behind. Often, such kids are labeled "slow" and are put into remedial classes simply because they lack the ability to remain "on-task".
Hyper-focus has a lot of advantages. It allows one to think more abstractly and with greater complexity. It is a particularly useful skill to have when you need to be able to model complex systems or think in an extremely logical manner (for computer programming). In the adult world, hyper-focus allows Aspergers people to deal with excessive levels of detail while still retaining a top-down approach.
Aspergers kids tend to hyper-focus mainly on their special interests and they are able to take in and process large amounts of related information as a result.
The best way to make use of hyper-focus in primary school kids is to attempt to line their work up with their special interests whenever possible.
For example, if your youngster's special interest is trains, then giving them sentences to write about trains or mathematics problems regarding carriages, train sizes or weights, or giving them scientific projects on the use of electricity or steam in trains will allow the youngster to use their special interest to further their normal learning.