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Video Games Are Addictive for Kids with Autism or ADHD

Update Date: Jul 29, 2013 03:19 PM EDT

If there were to be anything that children would like more than plastic toys or ice cream, it would be video games. Not only are these games fun and interactive, they can be pretty addictive. Even if video games can be somewhat addicting for young children, parents who set strict rules for playing can effectively pull the console away from children's hands without any huge problems. For parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), using authority to stop them from playing video games is a lot more difficult. According to a new study, researchers report that children afflicted with these behavioral disorders have a greater chance of being addicted to video games.

"These results suggest that children with ASD and those with ADHD may be at particularly high risk for significant problems related to video game play," the research team, headed by Dr. Micah O. Mazurek who is a psychologist from the University of Missouri, wrote in their study.  

The researchers interviewed 141 parents who had a son between the ages of eight and 18. The team decided to focus on boys because boys tend to have a higher rate of behavioral disorders than girls. The parents were asked about their sons' video game usage, access to these games and any symptoms of potential problems arising due to video games. Out of the sample set, 56 of the children had autism, 44 were diagnosed with ADHD and 41 were considered to have typical development.

After the interviews, the researchers calculated that children with autism played video games twice as often as children who developed typically. The rate was 2.1 hours versus 1.2 hours each day. The team found that children with autism or ADHD were more likely to have a game console in their bedrooms. These children also liked role-playing games more than other kinds. The researchers noted that children with autism or ADHD appeared to be irritated more often. The researchers stated that issues related to video game usage appeared to be linked to attention rather than hyperactivity.

Although video game addiction is not considered to be a problem, this study suggests that parents and doctors reassess how they deal with children with autism and ADHD when it comes to video games. More research needs to be done in regards to what kind of games these children are playing as opposed to the hours spent. Some studies have found that certain games played on tablets or computers can be rewarding for children with ASD who do not like to socialize with others.

"Mastery of a video game by a boy with ASD may lead to improved self-esteem," commented Dr. Andrew Adesman according to CBS News. Adesman is the chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York and was not a part of the study. However, he stated that limiting time spent in front of a screen is important.

The senior vice president for scientific affairs at Autism Speaks added, "This study highlights some issues that, if confirmed and elaborated on by additional research, could inform decisions on when and how to use these technologies to maximize benefits and minimize potential risks."

The study was published in Pediatrics.

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