Owen had been holding it together all day. Great day at school, amazing time at aftercare, and baseball practice? Nailed it! He was exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically.
All he wanted to do was eat dinner and play on his phone. Mom’s plan for doing chores was met with as much resistance as he could muster. A 45-minute meltdown ensued, and by the end of it he collapsed into a heap on his bed and fell asleep.
Why can’t everything be a fun game? Why does the hard stuff like doing chores, homework, and being nice feel so impossible? Why do those like Owen who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) seem to struggle more than others with those hard things?
Today I would like to talk about games for people with ADHD. Is playing games more important than homework?
Could playing games with an ADHD brain actually help them with their struggles? Let’s find out.
What is ADHD and how does it affect people?
ADHD is one of the most studied disorders. Most people have heard the term, but so many of them don’t truly understand its effect. For me, I didn’t think too much about it until I became the parent of a kid with ADHD.
In a study called, A serious game for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Who benefits the most? We see: “Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders with a worldwide prevalence rate of 5% among children and adolescents . In addition to the core symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention, children with ADHD show functional impairments in different areas of daily life such as planning their homework, estimating the time needed to complete an assignment, staying focused on tasks at hand, and building and maintaining meaningful social relationships with their peers [2–4]. These problems have been shown to adversely impact the daily life functioning of children with ADHD as well as their academic performance in the long-term [5–7].”
People with ADHD from kids to adults can struggle with executive functioning, impulse control, emotional regulation, and other things that affect their lives greatly. Though medication can help, it is important to find other means to help alleviate their symptoms, help them learn coping mechanisms that are healthy, and encourage long-lasting relationships.
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Barriers to playing
Sometimes games can be tricky for individuals with ADHD. Here are some of the symptoms of ADHD that can make gameplay harder.
- poor impulse control
- easily bored
- poor concentration skills
- poor working memory skills
- difficulty with sustained attention
- constant need to move
Finding games that build these skills while not contributing to frustration is key.
What kind of games are good for people with adhd and why?
“Play is not just about having fun but about taking risks, experimenting, and testing boundaries.”–American Academy of Pediatrics
If the above saying is true for neurotypical children, it is especially true for the neurodivergent. One of the biggest things my boy has taught me is the magic of thinking outside the box. Learning through play is one of the most effective ways to learn.
It eliminates the pressure to succeed and allows the child to focus. Playing games opens the mind to possibilities, and inspires creativity.
Play activates parts of the brain that can help them retain information and attach it to positive experiences. Many kids with ADHD crave instant rewards, playing can help them achieve them. These positive associations can make the child excited to repeat the activities, it can also improve time with others.
Many kids with ADHD find it difficult to make and maintain friendships. Sometimes they alienate their friends by their lack of impulse control.
For example, they may say mean things when frustrated, yell, or demand compliance with their own agendas instead of what their friend prefers. This can lead to loss or damage of friendships.
Playing games with others can bridge a gap, it can also be tricky. With some preparation, certain games with specific friends can help kids with adhd practice being a good friend.
Time with family
Family time can be a great time to add a fun game to the mix. Kids with ADHD usually find fast-paced games most enjoyable. These games have a quick pay off and don’t take a long time.
Here are some suggestions:
- Monopoly Deal*
- Pass the Pigs
- No Thank You, Evil!
- Candy Land
*We like card games,like Monopoly Deal, that shorten traditionally long board games (Monopoly) .
A sense of control
Predictability can be a catch 22 for kids with ADHD. It can bring stability and comfort; it can also get boring.
Predictability within their control can feel safer and more achievable. One way to provide structure in balance is to give your child choices within a game. The more they feel they are in “the driver’s seat” the more enjoyment they will experience.
Choices, clear objectives with different ways to get there, and details that can change at will are all the criteria for success.
Games with visual timers can be good. It gives the ADHD a “light at the end of the tunnel” to prevent boredom. They can also find enjoyment from beating a clock.
A game with points and the ability to use those points to “buy” prizes can help a child stay motivated. Creating a game to gain points for behavior and putting new coping skills into practice to earn points can go a long way at school.
Too much time or structure can be frustrating, not enough can be brutal. It’s all about balance.
Strategy games can be quite rewarding and can build working memory. Playing the same game with others can build communication skills. Executive functioning can be improved “under the radar” by the challenge of playing with others, playing characters, and learning to decide what to prioritize and when to achieve goals.
Many kids with ADHD learn best through interest-based play. They will find games with themes, subjects, and goals that they find interesting and more enjoyable.
In a study called, Play Therapy: An Illustrative Case, we learn: “Play therapy is a valuable tool in psychotherapy with children that has been shown to be effective in the treatment of mental illness and behavioral problems. In play therapy, the therapist follows the child’s lead through play, and the child expresses thoughts and feelings that might be difficult to communicate otherwise. The therapist creates a space to allow children to practice play and pretend, thus allowing the therapeutic alliance to develop.”
The theory behind games helping with ADHD, is similar to the truth we see in play therapy. Games can help build the skills the ADHD brain can threaten.
What are the best games on the market now for people with ADHD?
You may be wondering what games are out there that can really help and engage your child with ADHD. A simple google search pulls up more than I could have imagined, some costing money and other games were free. Here I would like to share my personal picks and why.
A board game can help boost time management skills, it can also inspire a child with ADHD to remain engaged, even if they are feeling bored. Here are some board games to consider:
ThinkFun Rush Hour Traffic Jam Brain Game and STEM Toy, this game is great because it allows a child to exercise their abilities in strategy games, boosts working memory, and focus.
Emotional Rollercoaster, this game opens a dialogue and fun around learning to manage anger and emotions. This can work similar to social stories in teaching the importance and skills needed for anger and emotional outburst before they happen. These skills can be implemented later, and the game’s approach can help them remember those skills in the moment of need.
Speed Charades Board Game, this game is great because it is a fast-paced version of a classic. It can boost communication, promote movement, and improve memory. This one is a boredom-buster for sure!
Card games can be a great way to add variety, portability, and fun to any trip or party. One card game that is good for older kids is Unlock!. It is a strategy game that takes the players on an escape room adventure–without the room.
Here are some games that my kids love. They span a wide age range and can be played alone or with friends.
- civilization vi
video game playing
Parents may be interested to know the effects of videogames on their child with ADHD’s brain. For several years we have known about some of the pitfalls of such games from children to adults.
Can video games for kids with ADHD be good for the brain in the long run? What are the effects over time? Could a video game provide ADHD treatment?
“Recently, behavioral scientists and health care professionals have been exploring new ways to optimize the daily life functioning in children with ADHD by improving their engagement with treatment through the use of video games to support behavior change . The integration of game elements into existing treatment procedures (also called gamification) has been shown to enhance motivation and treatment effectiveness [9–13].”(Doove, Franken, , Oord, Kato, P. M., & Maras (2018)
In an article on the site of the child mind institute I learned that one of the reasons ADHD kids enjoy video games so much is because there is never a dull moment. The picture, music, activities, characters, and landscape constantly changes. That, combined with the instant rewards acquired can be addicting.
The time gamers spend playing can make them feel as if they are in their own little world, they can forget the hardships they face outside and escape into a more predictable and exciting place.
Harnessing those qualities for good is the challenge. Eventually, even learning games can be a problem if not kept in check.
In the same article a warning can be found from the child mind institute, too much screen time can weaken social skills, relationships with family, and reduce attention span. As with so many other things, balance is key.
If screen time interrupts your child’s ability to rest it might be time to stop playing close to bedtime. If your child has trouble with frustration over time with the game, having a set time limit that is shorter than the previous allowed time could help. Providing your child with choices can help make them less resistant to change.
Modifications and accommodations for ADHD kids
Every child is different. There are some modifications and accommodations that we can provide for our kids that can help them while they play games of all kinds. Here are some suggestions:
- exercise ball
- fidget toys
- frequent breaks
- set times for start and ending games
- break up games over days: monopoly, risk, puzzles, etc
- modify the rules, then build on them over time
What to look for in an educational video game for your child with ADHD brain
Educational games for kids with ADHD should build their strengths and help improve their weaknesses. They should have quick timelines, attainable goals, and have elements that have long lasting effects.
Games are a great way to spend free time with our kids when they are out of school. Therapists, teachers, and other families can also find playing with our kids a fun way to teach things like waiting for your turn and learning to lose gracefully, improve focus, provide a backdrop to hear about their day or their struggles, and much more.
There are many kids who can benefit from games. From board games to video games and everything in between, playing can boost our kids with ADHD‘s abilities and create memories for years to come.
Bul, K., Doove, L. L., Franken, I., Oord, S. V., Kato, P. M., & Maras, A. (2018). A serious game for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Who benefits the most?. PloS one, 13(3), e0193681. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0193681
Senko, K., & Bethany, H. (2019). PLAY THERAPY: An Illustrative Case. Innovations in clinical neuroscience, 16(5-6), 38–40.