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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Video Game 'Addiction' More Likely With Autism, ADHD

Study cites poor peer relationships as one reason these kids embrace gaming


The most common symptoms of ADHD -- inattention and hyperactivity -- may also relate to problematic game use, the researchers noted. A previous study showed that when youngsters with ADHD started medication for their condition, their video game use went down, the authors pointed out.

The current study included information from 56 boys with an autism spectrum disorder, 44 boys with ADHD and 41 typically developing boys. Their ages ranged from 8 to 18. Parents completed questionnaires about their children's video game use.

Symptoms of inattention -- but not hyperactivity -- among boys with autism or ADHD were strongly linked to problematic video game use. A preference for role-playing video games among kids with an autism disorder was also more likely to lead to addictive video game play.

Levy said the consistency of video games appeals to kids with autism. "When you push a button, it does the same thing every time," she said. And for boys with ADHD, "video games are very visual, very engaging and exciting," she added.

The study found that more children with autism and ADHD had video game systems in their bedrooms than did typically developing boys. This is something Levy advises against.

"It's hard for parents to put something so engaging in the bedroom and limit its use," noted Levy. Adesman added that it's not necessarily a good idea for children with autism spectrum disorders to be isolating themselves by playing in their bedrooms, either.

But video game use may not be all bad, noted both experts. "Mastery of a video game by a boy with ASD may lead to improved self-esteem," said Adesman.

The study doesn't specify how much time spent gaming qualifies as "problematic." Overall, Levy said, "one to two hours a day of video games is fine, but it's best if they get other things done first."

Look at your child's overall day, Levy recommended. "If they're doing well in school and taking care of their other responsibilities, then video games are fine. But, if video games start to interfere in daily life, that's when they become a concern."

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends no more than an hour or two of total screen time daily.

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