Nate is like a lot of kids who have ADHD. Time management and organization skills are a challenge. He has trouble focusing on humdrum tasks like homework, especially math. But when it comes to video games that are full of combat, its mission accomplished for Nate, a 17-year-old high school student in Cleveland, GA.
"He has no problem concentrating when he's playing a game," says Nate's mom, Christine, a 911 dispatcher. "I try to play with him, but I can't keep up with him. He's too good for me!" She wishes her son had the same ease with everyday activities that he has with the digital world. But then, video games are more exciting for kids with ADHD than for the average person.
It's a toxic loop: Kids with attention problems already are prone to being sucked into the action-packed world of video games, and that makes their attention problems worse. That doesn't mean video games cause ADHD, as some studies have suggested. In some cases, they might even be helpful.
"There's no evidence whatsoever that something like video games causes ADHD," says David Anderson, PhD, clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute. "But there definitely are some important connections we need to think about when it comes to video games and ADHD."
Doctors aren't sure why people develop ADHD. But the number of people who are diagnosed with it keeps going up. Nate is part of the 11% of kids ages 4 through 17 who have been diagnosed with it. He's also part of the 84% of boys his age who play video games.
The appeal for a boy like Nate is obvious: The pace of play leaves little time for his mind to wander, and the reward is instant. It's so unlike the challenges of everyday life.
"A child with ADHD may be easily distracted or easily bored and have difficulty sustaining attention," Anderson says. "But video games are constructed differently." They require short bursts of attention and fast responses. But that doesn't do much good for the child when taken to excess.