Gaming ADHD


This week on Road to Joy we celebrate the positive impact of a non-gaming yet game-like activity in my ADHD son’s life: becoming the driver of the robot for his high school robotics team. We will take a serious look at the issue today, and we will laugh together on Wednesday, when I post the main blog’o’the week.

Like many parents of ADHD kids, we have struggled — STRUGGLED — with the pros/cons of gaming for years.  For Clark, gaming is a drug, a very addictive, destructive drug. His drug of preference? World of Warcraft, Call to Duty, and other similar games.

Casual, controlled, 15-minute a day gaming allows him to feel focused and achieve successes that aren’t possible in the frustrations of everyday ADHD life.  He can interact with people online much more easily than in the real world. It feels good.  See below for links to articles about therapeutic gaming software that uses neurofeedback, utilized by some psychologists in treatment of ADHD.

It is not the real world however, and some studies show that while he is gaming the basal ganglia portion of his brain becomes very active and his body releases dopamine, a chemical that gives him a sense of well-being. The drugs used to treat ADHD also work in the basal ganglia and increase dopamine. In this way, video games function like a drug to kids with ADHD.

Gaming doesn’t just impact people with ADHD, of course.  We have a friend — a judge — who went on a 48 hour gaming binge with his son and ended up having seizures; he was not allowed by DPS to drive a vehicle for a year.  Recently a couple in Korea let their live baby starve while they gamed for days on end, including a game where they had to feed and care for game babies.

Clark will game to the exclusion of everything else.  Without parental intervention, he won’t stop for sleep or food.  His real life suffers — school work, relationships, physical activity, everything.  To a certain extent, if he can’t game, he uses books in the same way, and will read all night with a flashlight unless we monitor and stop the behavior. 

Try to take the gaming “drug” away, and he becomes aggressive, unhappy, angry, even physical.  It is an addiction.  Even a little is too much, now.  Gaming has become all or nothing for him.  It has become bad enough that he recognizes and admits the problem.

Our solution to the gaming addiction/dilemna, has been multi-pronged:

  • No gaming, at all.  He cannot voluntarily pull himself away; he would play through a nuclear holocaust without looking away from the screen.  It is dangerous to him.  He actually partners with us on this now, since he has become mature enough to understand how much it is hurting him.  That doesn’t mean he won’t fall off the wagon, but he wants to be in control and have less bad things happen to him, so this has been an important development.
  • Clark joined the robotics team, where he can work with computers and electronics in a social setting, and drive the robot.  He derives a tremendous sense of accomplishment from this.  THIS HAS BEEN AN ASTOUNDINGLY EFFECTIVE REPLACEMENT FOR GAMING.
  • We signed Clark up for a personal trainer, and he joined football.  O M G, he joined the football team.  Physical exhaustion helps!  I’m serious.  It centers him.  And it makes him too tired to stay up all night reading fantasy books or sneaking down to the computer after we are all asleep.
  • Clark now takes a low does of the medication Concerta, although “taking” it is a forced, monitored activity.  He will forget if not reminded, and he will skip if not monitored.  Our goal is to assist him with meds, but not to replace learning life skills he needs now and even more when he goes off the meds.

While Clark has lost the positives of casual gaming, he has been freed from the negatives — and all that was left for him/us was the negatives at this stage.  He has gained real social contact through robotics and football, and the medication helps steady him.  It  focuses him enough that he can have meaningful social interaction without some of the awkwardness that characterized his middle school years, pre-medication.

We are elated.  This has really been an effective combination of solutions for our son’s self-esteem.  In fact, we hosted a party for him and his robotics friends at our house last weekend, something we haven’t done since he was in 4th grade.  He is now in 9th.  That 5 year gap represents some difficult years for him, and for us.  GO CLARK!

Watch for a review of the B.E.S.T. Robotics Competition, coming up Wednesday on Road to Joy.  Clark-a-palooza 2010, Robotics Rocks!

General information on ADHD:

ADHD: FACT, FICTION AND BEYOND: A Comprehensive Study of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder

ADHD and Gaming:

ADHD & Video Games: The Positive and The Addiction

ADHD patients play specialized neurofeedback video games as part of treatment

Can Playing Video Games Improve ADHD? Slower brainwaves than normal may be remedied by video games that use neurofeedback, researchers say.


ADHD patients play video games as part of treatmen

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  1. […] logic meaningless for the young ADHD child, and it improves only slightly as he matures.  Medication helps.  Support helps. But Clark and other ADHD kids find it hard to process why lying now to avoid present unpleasant […]

  2. […] learned was a dangerously addictive space for him, and a resource we had to carefully limit.  In fact, if he had too much game time, he would become angry and hostile – even physical – when …The issue at school, though, was […]



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