Video Game Addiction Possible for Children with ADHD and Autism

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Most parents of children, boys especially, with ADHD and/or autism will tell you that their child spends a lot of time playing video games. It is, for those with ADHD, one of the few times children are quiet and occupied for any length of time. But, according to a new study, those with ADHD and/or autism may become addicted to video games more easily than those without.

    Problematic Game Playing

    Video games offer relaxation and with the development of multi-player games, can offer socialization that children with ADHD and autism often miss out on - even if it is online and not in person. But playing video games can also become problematic. Problematic game playing is characterized by:

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    • Recurrent thoughts about playing, or the consistent urge to play, even when you are doing something else
    • Restlessness or irritability when not able to play
    • Attempts to reduce the amount of time spend on games or to stop without success
    • Failing grades (or performance at work) because of time spent on playing video games
    • Financial problems because of money spent on games
    • Avoiding social or recreational activities in order to spend time playing video games
    • Physical problems such as sore eyes, carpal tunnel syndrome or back problems as a result of continuous play
    • Reduced sleep because of time spent playing games
    • Weight loss or gain of more than 11 pounds due to time spent playing

    According to a study completed in 2010 [Porter et al, 2010], six or more of the above would constitute problematic video game playing. Less may still signal a problem, depending on the severity of those statements that match your situation.

    Risk of Video Game Addiction

    A study published in the August, 2013 issue of Pediatrics suggests that boys with autism and/or ADHD may have a higher risk of video game addiction. Researchers surveyed 141 boys between the ages of 8 and 18 (56 with autism, 44 with ADHD and 41 with typical development) to find out about their video game usage, including how many hours were spent playing games on a daily basis, where they played the games (specifically, did they have access to the games in their rooms?) and symptoms of problematic video game playing.

    The results of the study showed that boys with autism generally played video games twice as long, on a daily basis, than those with typical development. They also preferred role-playing games which can increase the risk of video game addiction. In addition, boys with ADHD or autism more often had access to video gaming in their bedrooms, increasing the risk of addiction as well. In boys with autism and/or ADHD, problems with inattention were linked to problematic game playing.

    There is no formal diagnosis of “video game addiction,” however, video game usage, when extreme, can cause problems similar to other addictions, such as withdrawal, building a tolerance and mood changes.

    Finding a Balance

    While playing video games for long periods of time, in the absence of other activities, can cause problems, there are also some definite benefits. Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of development and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center, in an article on HealthDay, stated, “Mastery of a video game by a boy with ASD may lead to improved self-esteem.” [1] These games also provide a diversion from stressful social interactions and provide a way to relax.

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    Some apps for tablets and phones, especially touch-screen apps, can provide ways to increase communication, especially for those with autism who don’t have the ability to communicate orally. Technology can help to build skills and aid in communication, if the proper games and apps are chosen.

    Adesman also suggests that children should not be isolating themselves in their rooms to play video games as this can shut them off from family and social interactions.

    Cutting down on the amount of “screen time” (television, video games, computer use) is important. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggestion less than 1 to 2 hours per day for older children although they say the average child engages in around seven hours per day of screen time. Paying attention to content helps as well - educational and non-violent content is best.


    “Media and Children,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, American Academy of Pediatrics

    “Problem Video Game Use,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Queen’s University

    [1] “Video Game ‘Addiction’ More Likely with Autism, ADHD,” 2013, July 29, Health Day, U.S. News and World Report

    “Video Game Use in Boys with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, or Typical Development,” 2013, July 29, Micah O. Mazurek, Ph.D. and Christopher R. Engelhardt, Ph.D., Pediatrics

Published On: August 05, 2013