ADHD & GADGETS: If a child can spend hours playing a computer game does he really have ADHD?

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iPads, computers and handheld game consoles are part of most children's lives today. Even children with ADHD appear to spend hours concentrating on their computer games. So if children with ADHD can spend hours playing on their gadgets, do they really have ADHD?  

I heard relatives and friends question the validity of a child's ADHD diagnosis for this exact reason-sure if he can concentrate on that game for an hour he can't have ADHD. This observation is incorrect according to Christopher Lucas, associate professor of child psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine.

According to Dr Lucas, "kids focus on videogames and television in a different way than the attention they use to thrive in school and life. It's not sustained attention in the absence of rewards," he said. "It's sustained attention with frequent intermittent rewards."

Success while playing computer games, like unlocking a new level, releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. Abnormal levels of dopamine have been associated with ADHD and some medications for ADHD are designed to boost dopamine activity. So for kids with ADHD, playing computer games is analogous to taking
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medication to boost dopamine levels which can make children emotionally dependent on their gaming devices.

Dimitri Christakis, the George Adkins Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle found that children adapt to the fast pace of electronic media. In real life, when children must work at a slower pace with less frequent rewards, they experience difficulty paying attention. Studies have shown that children with too much exposure to electronic media and television have an increased risk of developing problems with their attention spans.

Stephen Shore, Professor of Special Education at Adelphi University, suggests we use children's fascination with computer games to help them learn new skills. Shore stated, "these games are compelling to the kids, and instead of battling to eliminate them, we could use them to actually develop social skills."

For more information and the source of the above quotes click here.

For more information on dopamine, click here.

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

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