Playing video games—and screen time for kids, in general—tends to get a bad rap, but here's one instance where it can be a very, very good thing. According to a new study, playing a special kind of video game may reduce Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a disorder associated with impulsivity, short attention span and difficulty focusing, reports Mercury News.
The study, which comes from the University of California, San Francisco, involved 38 children ages 8 to 11 who have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Five percent of kids have this disorder, which includes sensitivity to texture and sound or slow reactions to pain or extreme cold or heat. These 38 children were compared with 25 typically developing counterparts, matched by age and gender, and among the 38 children, 20 had SPD and also met the criteria for inattention and hyperactivity associated with ADHD. (It's quite common for kids to have both, as study authors note anywhere from 46 to 69 percent of kids with ADHD also have SPD.)
To examine whether they could improve the ability of kids with SPD to have better attention spans, researchers staged a digital intervention. They had kids play the video game EVO, developed by Akili Interactive Labs in Boston, on an iPad for a total of around 25 minutes a day for five days a week each month. When they checked back with the kids after a month, they discovered something amazing: Among the kids with both SPD and ADHD, the attention spans of one-third of them (seven out of 20) improved to the point that they no longer fit the clinical cut-off for having ADHD, and these improvements lasted for up to nine months, according to parents' reports. An increase in midline frontal theta activity in the brain also seemed to reflect improvements in the kids' attention.
What's so special about the video game? Although it was designed as a medical device to help those with cognitive disorders and those with trouble using mental skills to get things done, EVO looks like a consumer video game due to its interface and engaging visual and auditory feedback, researchers note in the study published in the Journal PLOS One. In the game, players navigate a character on a moving road, avoid walls and obstacles and respond selectively to colored targets, simultaneously performing both perceptual discrimination and visuomotor tracking in the process. As players reach 80 percent accuracy, the difficulty level adjusts.
Pretty cool, right?
If you're wondering, "Where can I get this video game? I need it ASAP," we have some bad news. You can't get it anywhere ... yet. Study authors say the game has to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a medical device first. But we have some good news: If that happens, you could get the game through your kid's medical provider and, even better news, it may end up being covered by health insurance companies.
Even though the video game didn't improve the ADHD of all the kids who had both SPD and ADHD, the idea that it might improve even some kids' problems with inattention is great news. The study also has another takeaway: What may work to help your kid's ADHD may not work for another another kid. As lead author Joaquin Anguera, an assistant professor in the UCSF departments of neurology and psychiatry, says in a statement: “These findings are also important to consider from the perspective that one size doesn’t fit all, as there were selective benefits of this intervention for some of these children compared to their counterparts without attentional deficiencies.”
If the game does get approved by the FDA, it would be good to have another option for keeping kids' ADHD under control aside from medication.