A More Critical Look at Children with ADHD/Autism and Gaming

I enjoy a good read, so when an article entitled “When Video Gaming Gets Too Serious” came in through my Google feed I was intrigued to take a look. The article discussed findings from a study done by Micah O. Mazurek, PhD, of the Department of Health Psychology and Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia. The study was examining video game use in children with and without autism or ADHD. The article summary explains children with autism spent twice as much time each day playing video game.

Children( # of)

Hours Per Day

Without Autism/ADHD( 41)


With ADHD ( 44)


With Autism ( 56)


The research was conducted through extensive questionnaires given to the parents of boys ages 8 to 18. The research detailed boys with autism or ADHD were more likely to have video game consoles in their bedrooms than typically developing boys.

“Boys who had autism or ADHD were also more likely to have a video game console in their bedrooms than the typically developing boys were.”

It is not clear if the boys had consoles in their rooms because they played often or if they played often because the consoles were in the room.

What is interesting to bring up is the research compares the children with autism and ADHD with problematic gaming behaviors such as irritability, aggression to being interrupted, grades suffering, and losing of sleep related to excessive play. The more the boys’ symptoms of inattention, the more likely they had problematic video game behaviors.

What I must bring attention is in which the author of this article states,

“The children with ADHD played an average of 1.7 hours a day. After the researchers took into account other factors that could influence how much time kids spent playing, they found that the children with ADHD were not much different than the autistic or typically developing groups in terms of the time spent playing video games.”

Children with Autism were noted to have their consoles within their rooms. This would have been considered a confounding variable increasing the likelihood of the boys’ with Autism playing more. The author continues further,

“However, even after these factors were considered for the other groups, the boys with autism still played video games significantly longer than the typically developing boys. Other lifestyle or home factors did not explain the extra time autistic boys spent playing.”

This statement completely ignores the previous confounding variable of a console clearly being accessible more to boys with Autism or ADHD compared to developing boys. What is also problematic with this research is the way to was performed. Collecting answers from parents about the exact amount of time allocated each day for gaming isn’t exact enough for significance especially when the amount of hours per day for both developing boys and Autistic is quite close. If the study had obtain exact data from software like Raptr that collect the duration of time spent playing more accurately, a better outcome with less margin of error would be accessible. It comes with a troubling notion that

“The authors address a question of significant importance to many parents of children with either autism or ADHD: are video games harmful?” Dr. Elliott said. “They present their data in a way that might cause the reader to conclude that the answer is a firm ‘yes,'”

To present research with such a strong direction would need more concrete investigation. Because this is not a correlation study it is not possible to point out cause and effect.  But instead of asking “Is problematic video game use an outgrowth of high rates of usage or a reflection of the inattention, impulsivity and poor impulse control common to both ADHD and autism?” why not ask better “is the accessibility to playing on a console resulting in an the increase in the high rates of usage which manifest the problematic behaviors or is it the lack of supervision in monitoring children with autism and ADHD allowing the problematic behaviors to be reproduced? I disagree with the notion “that children with ADHD and autism are less likely to have outside friendships and other activities so perhaps more prone to spend time alone in their rooms playing games.” This is neglecting the pivotal aspect of boys within the age range of 8-18 where they are minors living under supposed supervision.

I don’t believe “In the meantime, parents should look at what happens with their child when he or she plays” because they should be actively a part of what their children are occupying themselves with. It shouldn’t be sometimes, it should be all the time. In all cases with any child that has autism or ADHD, it is imperative for a parent to actively consider what they give their child. If a child behaves in any problematic way, the worse you can do is snatch it away. The removal of the source will only cause the problematic behavior to heighten. I am not trying to promote video games, but there needs to be balance. A weaning is needed with an alternative form of occupying a child. One cannot expect the industry to do the parenting for you. Finding something else your child can occupy themselves with can alter a behavior and manifests more positive behaviors.

Narz is CEO/ Founder at Girl Gamer Vogue and Video Game Columnist at KnickerBocker Ledger.


Glen R. Elliott, Ph.D., M.D. Pediatrics, “Video Game Use in Boys With Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, or Typical Development”


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