Gaming and ADHD: The Cause or the Cure? (Guest post)


Angela Stringfellow

Angela Stringfellow is the managing editor at Family Living Today. She writes about family safety, parenting tips and other family-focused topics. She has kindly provided this article about ADHD and Gaming for the Axcis blog.

Gaming and ADHD: The Cause or the Cure?

The symptoms of ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, can appear in children before the age of seven. It’s difficult to diagnose, however, given that kids in this age group are naturally active, making it challenging to distinguish ADHD from kids simply being kids. Some children with ADHD are more inattentive than hyperactive – the quiet daydreaming type – which further complicates diagnosis.


By age five, most children have learned the importance of listening to instructions and how to pay attention. Some children with ADHD can stand out when they display symptoms such as bouncing from task to task without completing any of them, or the inability to focus on any one thing for an appropriate length of time. There are myriad symptoms which mean little individually, but could mean that a child has ADHD if several symptoms are present on an ongoing basis.


If a child is diagnosed with ADHD, parents are often plagued with worries about what they’ve done wrong (answer: nothing) and what they should and shouldn’t do to help their child manage ADHD. One question that often arises is the impact of technology – video games in particular – on the development of ADHD and how it may impact children who have already been diagnosed.

No Single Cause of ADHD

Doctors still aren’t sure why some children develop ADHD, but the number of children and adolescents diagnosed with the condition continue to rise. “In the latest survey, 9.5 percent said a doctor or health care provider had told them their child had ADHD … ADHD diagnosis is in many ways a matter of opinion,” according to AP medical writer Mike Stobbe. “There’s no blood test or brain-imaging exam for the condition. Sometimes reading disabilities or other problems in the classroom cause a teacher or others to mistakenly think a child has ADHD.”


ADHD is believed to have a hereditary component; children diagnosed with ADHD may have a parent or a sibling who also has the disorder. Researchers have also found some association between exposure to certain toxic substances and ADHD. Smoking cigarettes or consuming alcohol during pregnancy, for instance, may increase the child’s risk of developing learning or behavior problems. Likewise, researchers have identified a link between lead exposure (particularly during the first three years of life) and hyperactivity. In other words, there are a variety of factors that may contribute to ADHD, but no single cause has been established.

Video Games and ADHD

When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, parents typically spend a great deal of time searching for ways to modify the environment to best support their child and to eliminate potential distractors and conditions that could be hindering their child’s success. Some parents worry that spending too much time watching television or playing video games may have caused their child’s ADHD or that engaging in video games could make their child’s disorder worse.


According to child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Natalie Weder, there’s no evidence that these technologies (television or video games) contribute to ADHD. However, kids with ADHD do tend to be drawn to action-packed video games and popular television shows such as SpongeBob Squarepants. Why? Because there’s never a lull in the action – there’s always something happening. This is particularly true when it comes to video games. Immediate responses are required in order to win the game, meaning kids don’t have time to think between moves – so there’s no time for them to start thinking about something else. The engagement is constant.


Parents are also concerned about social isolation and possible addiction to video games. While these are valid concerns, video games aren’t all bad news; in fact, gaming offers some valuable benefits for the younger generation. Games can aid in the development of hand-eye coordination, and depending on the type of game, even improve memory and problem-solving skills. Classic video games like Tetris can aid with pattern recognition proficiency, improve reaction times, and even help to increase players’ attention spans by requiring extended periods of focus on a single task.

Choosing the Right Video Games for Kids with ADHD

Video games can help children with ADHD, but like all things in life, moderation is key – but it’s also important to encourage your child to play the right types of video games. Consider video games that are wholesome, cognitively challenging, and engaging.


One option, for example, is a program called NeuroPlus, which was designed to “improve cognitive performance in children and adults.” NeuroPlus is available for both iOS and Android, and it does require a monthly subscription, but it features a variety of training games that aim to improve focus and decrease hyperactivity. One of the featured games is called Axon, which challenges players to sit still in order to make the dragon fly faster.


ACTIVATE is another program designed for children with ADHD. Developed by Dr. Bruce Wexler, the co-founder of C8 Sciences, ACTIVATE is designed to engage kids with ADHD, encourage participation, and promote academic progress through pirate-themed games and fun learning techniques that help kids learn to memorize sequences, recognize and complete patterns, gain task-switching skills, and solve problems.


While there are a growing number of targeted, gamified programs aimed at helping children diagnosed with ADHD overcome the challenges associated with the disorder, some traditional video games can prove beneficial, as well. In addition to classic Tetris, popular games like Minecraft can help to improve time management, multitasking, and planning skills.


There are a variety of games that can help children with ADHD gain proficiency with these and other skills – skills that can help them achieve greater success in school and other settings. While video games and even programs designed specifically to help kids overcome the symptoms of ADHD aren’t a definitive cure for the disorder, they can play an important role in an overall treatment plan. The key, of course, is choosing the right video games and using them in moderation.


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