Video Games Used As “Digital Medicine”

For children with autism and ADHD, “digital medicine” may be just what they need to help cultivate their ability to pay attention.

ADHD’s core symptoms involve difficulty paying attention and remaining focused as well as hyperactivity. Those with the disorder may also have trouble staying organized and controlling their impulses. Anywhere from 40% to 60% of children with autism have a comorbid ADHD diagnosis or ADHD symptoms.

ADHD medications are known to be less effective in kids who have both autism and ADHD than kids who only have ADHD. In addition, kids with both disorders also have a higher incidence of impaired cognitive function.

Finding effective alternative treatments that meet their needs is important — and now, a reality.

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Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) assessed a type of video game therapy called Project: EVO and found the results to be promising. The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Designed by a unique company called Akili Interactive, the project uses video games as treatment, to engage children’s sensory and motor functions. Although the company’s video games may look like the typical action game, they are designed to directly improve cognitive deficits.

Akili partnered with researchers at CHOP’s Center for Autism Research (CAR) to conduct the study.

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The study assessed 19 children between the ages of 9 and 13 who had both disorders. Some were given the action video game experience, while others were given a more traditional, educational activity that prompted pattern recognition. Researchers primarily measured the participants’ ability to pay attention, but also noted their ability to plan and complete tasks, their memory, and any improvement of other ADHD symptoms.

The participants responded very well to the treatment, engaging with the game for at least 95% of the recommended time. The children and their parents found the game had a positive impact and improved the child’s attention. They also showed improvement in general ADHD symptoms, according to their parents.

Overall, the study was found to be successful, safe, and worthwhile. The research team is planning a larger study in the future.

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