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ADHD, FDA, and Video Games

CHILDMYTHS: ADHD, FDA, and Video Games

ADHD, FDA, and Video Games

Recently the Food and Drug Administration approved a
video game that is purported to be helpful as a treatment for attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Parents and teachers are often concerned about kids
whose behavior indicates ADHD, as their inattentiveness and high activity level
combine to cause problems for their learning at school and at home, and serves
as distractions to their teachers and parents as well as to other kids. The
adults are bound to find attractive the idea that having the children play a
video game can help improve their focus and self-control.
I’m not going to state the manufacturer or name of the
specific game that was approved by the FDA. It doesn’t really matter, and I’m
not in the business of telling people what to buy or not to buy. What is
important is that people always need to find out certain things before they
decide to put their resources into a treatment.
An important question is, who paid for the research?
Obviously, research funding can come from neutral, objective sources who have
no reason to want one outcome or another. But it can also come from highly
interested parties—and in this case that’s what happened. The manufacturer paid
for the research and got the outcome they wanted. When we say that a treatment
is evidence-based, however, we ask for two independent researchers both to show
the beneficial effects of the treatment. If someone unconnected with the
manufacturer got the same results as the people funded by the manufacturer,
that would be something to encourage us to use the treatment.
A second important question is, what does the outcome
have to do with the original problem? Lots of treatments have effects, and it
can be seen that they make a difference of some kind. The question is whether
the difference they make is relevant to the problem everyone was worried about.
In this case, that has not happened. The kids played one video game and their
attentiveness was measured. Then they played another game 100 times, went back
to the first one, and their attentiveness had improved—voila, a desirable
outcome. However, none of the ratings by their parents, of attentiveness and so
on, were improved. If the wish had been to create a treatment that would help
the kids play video games better, this one would be good, but of course that
was not the point of treating ADHD.
Just because we (in general) always hope for a pill or
a potion to “fix” problems of development and behavior, rather than to have to
do any difficult work, there will always be offerings of this kind. I mentioned
one a while ago: “Forbrain” , which according to its website “energizes” the
brain when you speak using a bone conduction headset. How you know whether your
brain has or has not been energized is not mentioned. That’s typical of devices
offered to treat autism, speech and hearing problems, and attention
difficulties—even some that seem highly plausible and were created by very
knowledgeable people.
The difference between the ADHD video game and the
others is that in the ADHD case the FDA has approved, suggesting that the game
has been found both safe for use and effective. That last part is questionable,
as I have pointed out. And this is a prescription game, sounding very
impressive and encouraging parents and teachers to see it as worth a try,
whatever it costs.
It all amounts to caveat emptor. Ask the right questions!


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