As a family coach, I would say that about 90% of my Disordered (Addicted) Gamers I work with also have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
The primary characteristics of someone with ADHD are inattention, impulsivity, and for some, hyperactivity. Often children with ADHD have difficulties regulating their emotions, as well. These symptoms can put a negative spin on an otherwise incredible brain that has its own unique way of processing and problem-solving. They often hear words like lazy, unmotivated, and procrastinator describing their behavior. Coupled with this unappealing stigma, children with ADHD struggle with low self-esteem, especially when they find themselves in overly structured and regimented classrooms that aren’t conducive to their learning, and fall behind their peers.
Those with ADHD require more stimulation to help them with focus and with the right kind of stimulation, they can often outperform their peers. They are great multi-taskers, they thrive in chaos, they are non-linear thinkers, are often adventurous, have great resilience and love to take risks. They can hyper-focus on activities they love.
It is these positive symptoms of ADHD that we need to look at and find ways to encourage.
When we don’t help an ADHD child to feel capable of learning and feel good about themselves, they will look for stimulation and environments where they can achieve their potential.
And video games provide this arena for a place for a child to feel successful.
Those with ADHD gravitate to gaming because it suits their active brain, a mind that loves challenges and works well under pressure. They also thrive in the constant loop of positive feedback that gaming provides, which gives them a much needed self-esteem boost.
An ADHD child lives in the present, so instant gratification and reward motivates them more than receiving rewards much later. Video games are fast-paced and visually exciting, far more entertaining than sitting at a desk, in a classroom where being still and quiet is the norm, and grades and praise come days after their work has been handed in.
In addition, for children with ADHD who struggle within their social circles or have difficulty making friends, video games provide an outlet to create online friendships where they feel more accepted as a successful gamer.
The feel-good hormone, Dopamine, is different in those with ADHD, and seeking stimulation to achieve higher dopamine levels does run the risk of developing an addiction. Which brings me back to my opening statement, that a large majority of my compulsive gaming clients also have ADHD.
My approach to helping these addicted gamers to better regulate their gaming time and move towards harm reduction or detox, is to help them to first embrace their ADHD and all the positive attributes of their brain. It’s important to build their shattered self-esteem and help them feel proud for being different.
Helping them to learn to manage their ADHD brain, in a world where a neurodiverse mind is not considered the norm, is important. I often recommend to parents to have their child start working with an ADHD coach to help them to find easier ways to manage their learning, both in school and at home.
Although gaming to excess is unhealthy, learning what it is about playing video games that is so attractive to an ADHD child will help them to see where they need to look for meaningful connection and stimulation outside of gaming.
Watch your child play video games; join them in playing if you can. Talk to them positively about their games and ask about their problem-solving approach. I know this sounds counter-intuitive when a child is addicted, but it’s important to understand their world and build trust before moving them towards recovery.
Look for other sources where they can find a sense of success in something they will enjoy. Video games provide an opportunity to build on skills such as hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, planning, sequencing, prioritizing, teamwork, and leadership.
What other activities can your child incorporate in their life to help build some of these same skills?
While playing hours of video games meets many of an ADHD child’s needs, too much of a good thing isn’t always best. Young brains need healthy balance with exercise, tangible friendships, time with family, and a variety of activities to engage in.
Education on how the ADHD brain works is important for both children and parents. These beautifully brilliant kids are not lazy or unmotivated. Their brains require a unique approach and an understanding.
They need to feel that having ADHD is a super-power, not a disability because it is!
For references and to learn more information on the positive side of ADHD, look for books and videos by leading expert Dr Russel Barcley, PhD.
Jessica McCabe has a great YouTube channel called How to ADHD.
Amazon Prime has a good documentary called The Deceptors.
Dr Dale Archer has a book called The ADHD Advantage; What You Thought Was a Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength.