A recent study at the University of Missouri shows that children who are diagnosed with autism or ADHD are more likely to become addicted to video games than children without a diagnosis. The study, which was published in the August issue of Pediatrics, surveyed the parents of 150 boys, ages 8 – 18, 56 with autism, 44 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and 41 with no diagnosis.
Results showed that children with an autism diagnosis averaged 2.1 hours of video game play per day. Children with ADHD averaged 1.7 hours, while children without a diagnosis averaged 1.2 hours of video game play. They also found that children with an autism diagnosis tend to favor role-playing games, which have been linked to oppositional behaviors in a previous study. The study also found that children with a diagnosis were more likely than their typically-developing peers to have a video game system in their bedroom.
Researchers were not surprised at the results. Children with autism and ADHD have difficulty connecting with their peers. Video games are a form of entertainment that don’t require peer interaction. Video games are also predictable, which make them attractive to children with autism and ADHD.
Autism is a disorder that affects a child’s ability to read social cues, making it difficult to form and maintain friendships. Children with autism also have a tendency to form repetitive interests in particular activities, making video games an attractive choice for play.
Children with ADHD suffer from inattention and hyperactivity, which can also get in the way of forming and maintaining friendships with peers. Previous studies have shown that video game use by children with ADHD went down when they received medication for their symptoms.
“These results suggest that children with ASD and ADHD may be at particularly high risk for significant problems related to video game play, including excessive and problematic video game use. Attention problems, in particular, are associated with problematic video game play for children with ASD and ADHD, and role-playing games appear to be related to problematic game use particularly among children with ASD.” wrote study authors Micah Mazurek and Christopher Engelhardt. They also recommended further study to determine the long-term effects of screen-based media like video games on children with conditions like ASD and ADHD.
Studies like this one highlight the importance of moderation and parental limits. Dana Levy, assistant professor in the department of child and adolescent psychology at the NYU Child Study Center in New York City, advises parents to monitor their child’s video game use, and to limit the amount of time their child spends playing. Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, points out that mastering a video game can be good for a child with autism’s self-esteem, but he cautions against excessive video game play. Video games aren’t bad in and of themselves, but moderation is key.