MONDAY, July 29 (HealthDay News) -- Boys with autism or
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are more at risk of
addictive video game use than typically developing boys, according
to new research.
The study of nearly 150 boys found that those with an autism
spectrum disorder (ASD) played video games for significantly longer
periods each day than typically developing boys -- an average of
2.1 hours versus 1.2 hours. Boys with
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) averaged 1.7 hours
of video game use daily.
"Children with ASD and those with ADHD may be at particularly high risk for significant problems related to video game play, including excessive and problematic video game use," according to the study, published online July 29 and in the August print issue of Pediatrics.
Experts said they aren't surprised by the findings.
"Boys with ADHD and boys on the autism spectrum both have difficulties relating with peers," said 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. Video games provide a diversion that doesn't require interaction with peers or siblings, he added.
Another professional said video games in and of themselves
aren't the problem. "There does have to be structure around video
game use. Like anything else, it's best in moderation," said Dana
Levy, an assistant professor in the department of child and
adolescent psychiatry at the NYU Child Study Center in New York
In the United States, about one in 88 children has an autism
spectrum disorder, which can range from mild as in Asperger
syndrome to full-blown autism with severely limited communication
skills. It's estimated that between 3 percent to 7 percent of
school-age children have ADHD. Boys are far more likely than girls
to have either diagnosis.
Common features of autism include impaired social and
communication skills, and a repetitive interest in a restricted
number of activities. These symptoms may be directly related to
problematic video game use, according to the University of Missouri
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
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
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
The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends no more than
an hour or two of total screen time daily.
Learn more about the American Academy of Pediatrics'
media use recommendations for children.
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