ADHD and Attention Difficulties

ADHD Fundamentals

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a developmental disorder defined by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. A child is diagnosed with ADHD when he displays attention problems that significantly impair his performance in school, at home, or in other situations.

Signs of ADHD may include:

  • Difficulty with following through on instructions.
  • Problems organizing tasks and activities.
  • Difficulty sustaining attention during tasks.
  • Restlessness and excessive movement.
  • High levels of activity and always being on the go.
  • Physical and verbal impulsivity.

Attention problems and Alternative learners

Many children who do not have diagnosable ADHD still experience mild difficulties paying attention, following directions, and staying on task. While these Alternative Learners may not need the same level of intervention that a child with ADHD does, many of the technological and academic strategies presented here can still be very helpful.

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Why are video games and other digital media helpful for children with attention problems or ADHD?

Children with attention problems or ADHD are often highly engaged by video games and other digital media. As a result, they may tend to display less of the characteristic symptoms of attention problems or ADHD when involved with digital technologies. In part, this is due to how the features of digital media counterbalance their attentional, behavioral, and learning difficulties. The following chart demonstrates how and why video games and other digital media can be a powerful tool for learning in children with attention problems and ADHD.

Kids with ADHD or Attention Difficulties: Video Games and Other Digital Media
May become easily bored and unable to sustain attention. Good video games and other digital media are often multimodal, requiring ever-changing skills and employing a variety of stimuli including video, sounds, words, and actions that help keep kids interested and engaged.
Often require reinforcement or consequence that is immediate in order to stay focused on a task. Video games provide clear and immediate feedback, constantly letting the player know what he is doing wrong and what he is doing right.
Often require that their body or mind to be actively engaged. Video games and other digital media are extremely engaging and many require physical and cognitive involvement.
Usually have problems with following directions. Video games teach by trial and error or through guided discovery, requiring the player to understand instructions in order to succeed.
May struggle to learn new information and experience frustration or low self-esteem as a result. Most negative feedback from video games and other digital media occurs privately. This causes less embarrassment and frustration while teaching the player how to handle these emotions.

What Thinking Skills are impaired in children with attention problems or ADHD?

  • Focus: Kids with attention issues may have difficulty in the presence of distractions. They often experience problems sustaining attention and maintaing their effort-level during important tasks.
  • Working Memory: They often have difficulty following multi-step directions, trouble recalling information, and problems remembering material they read.
  • Self-Control: Kids with ADHD often have difficulty thinking before acting and can often be impulsive.
  • Time Management: Kids may waste time or rush through tasks and are often unaware of time constraints.
  • Planning: Kids with attention difficulties may not take the opportunity to think ahead. Instead of taking time to consider a strategic approach, they tend to “just wing it.”
  • Organization: Kids with attentional problems often do not keep track of where they put important items, like completed homework or their team uniforms.
  • Self Awareness: Kids with ADHD often do not “tune in” to the reactions of others, moving too fast to see how others experience their behaviors.
  • Flexibility: Kids with attentional difficulties may have problems in transitioning from one activity to another.  Sometimes they simply cannot stop paying attention to something that is of great interest to them.


How can video games and other digital media improve Academic Skills in children with attention problems or ADHD?

First and foremost, video games and other digital media display the capacity to capture the mind of children with attention problems. Parents and teachers of children with attention problems almost universally agree that these children can easily sustain their focus while playing video games, surfing the Internet, or using other digital media.

One common approach is using electronic media to directly teach content, such as software designed to teach math or reading skills. A less common, though perhaps even more effective, idea is to transform “fun” forms of digital media (video games, social networking sites, and other things that kids do on their own) into real-life teaching tools by using their inherent academic requirements to teach your child the skills she needs to improve.

For example:

  • Sports-themed video games often require a child to think mathematically about player statistics in the midst of difficult distractions.
  • Many video games, particularly those on mobile and handheld devices, require kids to focus on what they’re reading for extended periods of time.
  • Many technologies such as blogs, cloud-based tools, and Wikis encourage social engagement in the learning process; this is reinforcing in itself, but it also provides models and feedback for children with attentional problems

What are the potential problems associated with using video games and other digital media for children with ADHD or attention difficulties?

While video games and other digital media can be helpful in engaging kids’ attention, there are a number of concerns about the use of these tools for children with ADHD and attentional issues.

As a result, we encourage parents to be very judicious about and monitor the use of digital media for children with ADHD and attentional issues. Consult the table below to see what you should watch out for, and how you can go about avoiding these problems.

Cautions Solutions
Children with ADHD or attention problems may become “hyper-focused” on video games and other digital media, neglecting other important responsibilities. Require that your child complete all of her homework, chores, or other responsibilities before being allowed some digital play time. By making him put-off these fun activities until after her work is done, he won’t be able to use digital play as a means of procrastination.
Kids with ADHD or attention problems often become so absorbed with activities they find interesting, that they may lose track of how much time they have spent on their digital play. Use a timer if you need to limit your child with ADHD.  Time management and having a sense of time are often significant deficits for children with attention problems. You can use online timers such as or even an everyday kitchen timer to keep your child on track.
Kids with ADHD or attention problems may choose to engage with digital play instead of the physical activities that are part of a healthy treatment process. Exercise has been shown to improve Focus and learning in children with attentional problems. Tell your child to go out and run around before playing video games, and to play active games such as Wii Tennis or Kinect Adventures.

What are the traditional ways my child might be treated for ADHD?

Treating Attention Deficit Disorder requires more than just the digital strategies that we can teach you. A number of traditional strategies work very well in conjunction with the methods described at LearningWorks for Kids including, behavioral, educational, and medical approaches. These may include:

  • Psycho-stimulant medication.
  • Use of salient rewards at the point of performance.
  • Preferential seating in the classroom.
  • Communication strategies to improve the ability to follow directions.
  • Opportunities for physical movement and breaks in the classroom.

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