ADHD & Video Games

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

This lesson will review the connection between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and video gameplay. ADHD will be defined, and the relationship between ADHD and video games will be investigated.

Video Games

Jimmy is 10 years old and in the fifth grade at a local elementary school. Ever since he started school, his teachers have complained that he doesn't pay attention, fidgets around in his seat, and throws mulch at other children on the playground.

After several calls from the assistant principal's office, his mother decided to take Jimmy to the doctor, who provided her with behavior evaluation forms to complete. At a follow-up visit, the doctor informs Jimmy's mom that Jimmy suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Jimmy's mom is a bit perplexed. She realizes that Jimmy has a hard time focusing in school, but she also knows that he can sit quietly and play video games for hours. She wonders what exactly is going on?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

So what exactly is ADHD? ADHD is considered to be a mental disorder that is commonly diagnosed in children and can last into adulthood. Some symptoms of ADHD include:

  • difficulty sustaining attention
  • inability to sit or stand still for more than a moment
  • impulsiveness
  • forgetfulness

Parents of children with ADHD often refer to them as a handful, grow frustrated by their inability to follow directions and their tendency to lose things, and are confused by their lack of control over what they say or do.

It's sometimes difficult for healthcare professionals to determine what is considered normal childhood behavior and what is behavior characteristic of ADHD. This is especially true in the case of boys like Jimmy, as boys characteristically have a lot of energy and like to move around. An accurate diagnosis can only be made through the completion of behavioral assessments from multiple sources such as parents, teachers, and relatives who don't live in the home.

Once the behavioral assessments are completed and a thorough medical evaluation has ruled out other health issues, a diagnosis of ADHD can be made. So why can children with ADHD focus on video games but not on tasks at hand such as classroom learning?

ADHD and Video Game Play

Some argue that there is a causal relationship between video game play and ADHD, although most medical opinions deny that this indeed exists. However, the debate continues on whether or not playing video games helps or harms patients who are diagnosed with this condition. Let's take a look at opinions on both sides of this issue.

Video Game Play Helps ADHD?

Those who believe that video games help children and adults who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder argue that video games allow these children to practice engagement and concentration because it only requires them to focus for short periods at a time. Although no formal research effort supports this conclusion, there is some evidence that games train the brain into paying attention.

Therapists have used so-called brain games like MineCraft and SmartDriverPlus for years to help improve the functioning of patients with ADHD. However, brain games are not used to treat the condition, and should only be used supplemental to a medication and behavior modification plan. It is also noted that the time children who are allowed to play video games on a daily basis should have play restricted to no more than an hour or two.

Video Game Play Harms ADHD?

On the other side of this issue are those who state that video game play can actually harm patients with ADHD. A study published in the Psychiatric Times concludes that adult males with ADHD are significantly at risk for developing video game addiction. The longer one plays video games, the more likely they are to become addicted.

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