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What parents of boys of ADHD or autism should know about video games

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  August 1, 2013 07:21 AM

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boy video game.jpgGot a boy with ADHD or autism? Be careful about his video game use.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics found that boys with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  spent more time playing video games and were more likely to get addicted to them than boys with "typical development." It seemed to be most linked to attention problems: boys who had particular trouble paying attention, whether they had ADHD or ASD, were the ones most likely to get addicted.

Speaking of attention: this is something that parents of these boys should pay attention to. Video game addiction (referred to in the study as "problematic video game use") has a way of taking kids away from schoolwork and social interactions (not to mention physical activity). Previous studies have also shown that excessive video game use can interfere with "executive function", which are skills like attention, problem-solving, negotiation and delayed gratification (being able to wait to get what you want). These are all things that are already hard for kids with ADHD and autism. Making them harder is a bad idea.

Boys who played "role-playing" games were most likely to get addicted, which was interesting. I guess that maybe when you imagine yourself as the character, it's easy to get hooked in. It was also interesting that the boys with ADHD and autism were a bit less likely to play "shooter" games (as a pediatrician, I liked that). 

One key bit of information: the researchers found that boys with ADHD or autism were more than three times more likely to have a video game system in their bedrooms than the typically developing boys in the study. It's a bit of a chicken-or-egg thing: do they get more preoccupied with video games because they can play them all the time, or do they end up with consoles in their rooms because they want to play them all the time? Also, the researchers wondered if parents let them have the consoles, and let them play, because it made their behavior easier to control.

That's what I think parents and caregivers need to think really carefully about. Kids with ADHD or autism may be happy and easier to manage when they play video games, making life better for everyone--but there can be real downsides.

It's not easy raising a child, let alone a boy with ADHD or autism. If the idea of cutting back on video games feels unrealistic, talk to your child's doctor, teacher or mental health team. Ask them for ideas on how to make sure that video games don't end up being a problem for your child.


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This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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