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Addictive gaming more common with autism and ADHD

Children with an autism spectrum disorder spend about twice as much time playing video games as kids who don't have a developmental disability, according to a new study.

Researchers also found that children with an autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at an increased risk of gaming addictions, compared to children without the disabilities.

"What we found is that it looks like (addictive gaming) was largely driven by inattention," Christopher Engelhardt, one of the study's authors from the University of Missouri in Columbia, told Reuters Health.

Previous studies have found that children with an autism spectrum disorder or ADHD spend more time playing video games and are at increased risk for gaming addictions than other children, write the researchers in the journal Pediatrics.

No single study, however, has looked at the three groups to see whether shared features of autism and ADHD - such as inattention or hyperactivity - seem to drive video game use.

For the new study, Engelhardt and his colleague surveyed the parents of 141 boys between the ages of 8 and 18 years old. Of those, 56 had an autism spectrum disorder, 44 had ADHD and 41 were developing normally.

Overall, they found that kids with an autism spectrum disorder played - on average - 2.1 hours of video games per day. Children with ADHD spent about 1.7 hours per day playing video games and normally developing kids played about 1.2 hours per day.

Kids with an autism spectrum disorder or ADHD were also more likely to have a video game system in their rooms, according to the researchers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not spend more than two hours in front of a screen per day.

The researchers also asked the parents to answer questions about the types of video games their children played the most, about their gaming behavior and their symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention.

While typically developing kids tended to pick first-person shooter or sports games, children with autism and ADHD were more likely to play role-playing games - although the latter finding could have been due to chance. Role-playing games have been linked to video game addiction in previous studies.

The researchers did find that children with an autism spectrum disorder or ADHD were more likely to exhibit symptoms of video game addiction or "problematic video game use," compared to kids with typical development.

Overall, they found the number of hours a child spent playing video games and inattention were linked to video game addiction.

"Among people with autism, the score on problematic video game behavior was driven by inattention and role-playing video games and not hyperactivity," Engelhardt said.

The study, however, can't say autism spectrum disorders or ADHD cause children to play more video games or become addicted to them. Also, the number of parents surveyed may have limited the researchers' ability to detect some differences between the groups.

"What does seem to be the case is that the average amount that you're playing does seem to be related to problematic video gaming," Engelhardt said.