Homeschooling with ADHD and video games can be a powerful combination to increase executive functioning skills, improve attention and memory, and keep your child’s interest in learning!
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Did you know that there is a good bit of research that supports the idea that kids with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) often learn better and retain more information when they learn through video game play? It’s true! (Blumberg et al., 2019; Rivero et al., 2015)
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Let’s talk about ADHD and video games
Video games often get a bad rap for being a seemingly mindless time thief that produces generations of zombie kids. While there are plenty of potentially negative effects from unlimited screen time and violent video games, allowing your child with ADHD some time to play quality video games can actually benefit them greatly!
There’s even a new ADHD treatment called EndeavorRx that is actually a video game that has been approved by the FDA to be used as a part of an ADHD therapy plan. It has to be prescribed by a doctor, filled through a pharmacy, and can be billed to your insurance company! It sounds crazy, but that’s how much research has gone into ADHD and video games!
Executive Functioning Skills
If you have a child with ADHD (or you have it yourself), you probably know that executive functioning skills need to be improved. Everyone who has ADHD struggles with executive functioning on some level.
What are executive functioning skills? They are the processes of the brain that control things like:
- Working memory
- Organization and planning
- Transitioning from one task to another
- Initiating and completing tasks
- Impulse control
- Prioritizing tasks
- Flexible thinking (understanding different strategies or viewpoints)
Although more research over time will show more definitively whether certain types of video games can improve executive functioning skills, there are many studies that have been completed over the past decade or so that have shown an increase in executive functioning skills through the use of video game play.
Many video games require players to focus on one item or task with other distractions constantly coming at them. Players must determine the best course of strategic action and prioritize tasks in order to complete a mission. Working memory is constantly in play as they must remember what tools they have to use, where to go for certain things, and what keystrokes/controls they must engage to perform certain actions. (I’m sure you can tell I’m not a gamer with my lack of gaming terminology, and you can bet my kids will correct me if they read this!)
The consistent and constant feedback from video games provides motivation and keeps players in a high state of arousal.
Boredom is the kryptonite of the ADHD brain. People with ADHD have to have something stimulating to do or to think about. ALL. THE. TIME. If they don’t, their mind will wander on to something that does stimulate them.
The constant action, reaching higher levels, earning rewards…all of these things that video games offer keep the mind engaged and motivate players to complete tasks.
The current research has shown improvement in several different kinds of attention skills through video game play (Rivero et al., 2015):
- Response Speed
As parents of kids with ADHD (especially if we’re homeschooling), we are always trying to figure out how to increase attention span. With these kinds of possible outcomes, it seems worth it to me to let video games have some place in our kids’ routines.
It’s hard to re-train ourselves sometimes when we think that something has to be done a certain way. With education, for example, most of us went to a traditional school and heard a lot of lectures, read a lot of textbooks, completed a lot of worksheets, answered a lot of questions, and wrote a lot of papers.
That type of learning was ingrained in us, so that’s how we think it has to be done. But, it’s not.
Sure, there is a place for some of that. And, yes, some people learn best that way. But, it’s not the only way to learn. And for our kids with ADHD, it’s probably not the best way to learn.
Presenting academic content in a video game format can help kids with ADHD develop knowledge and skills that would be very difficult for them to master by traditional methods. Even skills like reading comprehension and passage copying have been found to be improved through computerized attentional training, even though those skills were not explicitly taught in the training (Shalev et al., 2007).
Now, there is definitely progress to be made in terms of which video games will actually provide academic gains. There is no widespread regulation as to what video games or apps can be labeled as educational, so there will definitely be some trial and error in choosing the games that produce the best academic outcomes for our kids with ADHD (Blumberg et al., 2019).
As with everything else pertaining to kids with ADHD, the effects of video game play will vary with each individual. ADHD is a spectrum disorder. Symptoms vary widely on that spectrum. Medication treatment choices, environmental differences, and comorbidities (other disorders that are also present, such as learning differences or anxiety) add additional layers of symptom diversity.
Some researchers in the field of video game therapy for kids with ADHD are pushing for more individualized baseline measures so that they can better predict whether this type of therapy will be beneficial for each specific individual (Bisoglio et al., 2014).
Of course, we can’t all be participants in a research study. One of the limitations of the research on video game therapy for kids with ADHD is how to measure whether the gains in executive functioning skills carry over into real-life experiences, anyway (Rivero et al., 2015).
So, like most other things, parents of kids with ADHD will have to pay attention to see how video game play affects their child and use it in the way that best fits their needs.
Let’s talk about homeschooling with ADHD and video games
So, what if you’re homeschooling a child with ADHD? How can you incorporate video games into your child’s routine in a positive way that will add to their academic experience?
Choosing Video Games
As I mentioned earlier, there are currently no regulations that monitor what games and apps can be labeled as educational. Homeschooling parents do a lot of research already to find the educational tools that best fit the needs of their children, and it’s the same process for choosing video games for learning.
Asking other parents in Facebook groups is a great place to start! The parents in my ADHD Homeschooling Support Group love to share about the tools and strategies they’ve found that help their own kids!
Look for games that are age-appropriate and target the skills your child needs to learn. Math and reading skills are popular categories for educational games, and probably make up the greatest majority of the games available. However, you can also find video games and apps that teach science, history, geography, personal finance, critical thinking skills, foreign language, art, coding, social skills, emotional regulation, and more!
Once you’ve narrowed down your options into games that you feel comfortable with, let your child look at it with you and help you make the final decisions. When they have a hand in choosing, they are much more likely to want to use it long-term.
Many games allow kids to create their own avatar to look similar to themselves and earn points or some other currency to purchase new accessories. This type of personalization gives kids a greater sense of ownership in the game. They want to see their avatar be successful!
If you’re a homeschooling family with more than one child, sometimes you can find subscriptions to educational video games that allow each of your children to have their own login. This is such a great benefit! Each kid can create their own avatar and play at the level that is appropriate for their needs. Most of these types of programs will even give the parent progress reports for each child!
Video Games & Your Homeschool Day
You might be wondering how you can manage video games in your homeschool day without it becoming a struggle to get your kids to do anything else. We all know that video games can be addictive. Kids with ADHD also hyperfocus on the things that are most interesting to them. So, how do we create balance?
The ultimate answer is that all kids and families are different, so you’ll have to try some different things until you figure out what works for your situation. However, there are some general tips that you might find to be helpful in creating a successful routine.
If you’re using an educational video game to help your child learn, don’t use it as a reward or punishment. Leave that for the non-academic video game time. Rather, make the learning games a regular part of your day that happens for a pre-determined amount of time. You don’t want your child to miss out on valuable math practice just because they didn’t pick up their toys, right? So, even if it’s something they love and you think it would be a great motivational tool, resist the urge to use it that way!
Schedule video game play right before breaks in your day or other things that your child looks forward to. It will be easier to help them transition away from the games to other tasks if they get to move right into something else they really enjoy. For example, let them have 30 minutes of game time before lunch each day. That way, when lunch is ready, they know it’s time to stop and eat. You won’t have to try to drag them away from the game to go write a paragraph because you’ve already built the transitions into your day with breaks.
Use an app like Freedom to monitor game time. Freedom allows you to block everything on your device except what you want to work on for any length of time that you set (great for those of us who need help focusing on one task without distractions)! It can show a countdown timer, too, so your child can see how much time they have left. It works across all of your devices. So, essentially, you could allow only the game you want your child to play for 30 minutes (or whatever time you set) and then block it. Freedom is a great tool for people with ADHD to use to help them be more productive with tasks that need to be done on a computer or device!
Video games are worth a try for your homeschool kids with ADHD
Bottom Line: There is enough research to suggest that video game play can benefit kids with ADHD in numerous ways. Can there be drawbacks? Absolutely. But with proper monitoring, video games have the potential to help your kids with ADHD improve executive functioning skills, increase attention spans, and make academic gains.
I encourage you to give it a try with video games that are appropriate for your kids and family-both for fun and educational purposes!
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Bisoglio J, Michaels TI, Mervis JE, Ashinoff BK. Cognitive enhancement through action video game training: great expectations require greater evidence. Front Psychol (2014) 5:136. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00136
Blumberg, F.C., Deater-Deckard, K., Calvert, S.L., Flynn, R.M., Green, C.S., Arnold, D. and Brooks, P.J. (2019), Digital Games as a Context for Children’s Cognitive Development: Research Recommendations and Policy Considerations. Soc Policy Rep, 32: 1-33. https://doi.org/10.1002/sop2.3
Rivero, T. S., Nunez, L. H., Pires, E. U., & Bueno, O. A. (2015). ADHD rehabilitation through video gaming: A systematic review using PRISMA guidelines of the current findings and the associated risk of bias. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 6(151), 1-16. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00151
Shalev L, Tsal Y, Mevorach C. Computerized progressive attentional training (CPAT) program: effective direct intervention for children with ADHD. Child Neuropsychol (2007) 13(4):382–8. doi:10.1080/09297040600770787