New research from the University of Missouri and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders has found that boys on the autism spectrum spend almost twice as much time playing video games daily than their neurotypical peers.

Building upon previous studies that showed children with autism spectrum disorders or ADHD to be at greater risk for “problematic” video game use and video game addiction, the researchers conducted a survey that focused on video game use of boys aged eight to 18. They surveyed 56 boys with autism spectrum disorder (including autism, Asperger’s, and PDD-NOS), 44 boys with ADHD, and 41 neurotypical boys, comparing their video game usage patterns as reported by parents in a 19-item questionnaire. The questionnaire asked how many hours the child plays video games on a typical weekday and weekend and inquired about demographic information like how many siblings the boy has.

They found that while neurotypical boys played video games for an average of 1.2 hours daily, boys with ADHD played for an average of 1.7 hours, and boys on the autism spectrum for 2.1 hours. The non-neurotypical boys were more likely to have a video game system installed in their room. Although there was no gaming genre that was significantly more popular for children with autism or ADHD, the neurotypical children were more likely to play shooting or sports games.

Problematic video game use—difficulty disengaging from video games and a higher propensity for video game addiction—was more prevalent in the disordered groups. There was no difference between the ADHD and autism groups in levels of problematic video gaming. Problematic use was associated with long hours of play, the role-playing game genre (for ASD boys, but not for ADHD boys), and inattention. In neurotypical children, problematic game use was only associated with hours played and hyperactivity.

The authors state that additional research will be needed to determine the long-term effects of screen-based media in children with autism spectrum disorders.

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