On one of my Facebook groups for moms with ADHD, the topic of counting sheep came up. We collectively remain unsure if counting sheep works for neurotypical people or not, but we came to the conclusion that it doesn’t work for those of us with ADHD. So, for your amusement, I am listing here our account of what happens when we ADHDers count sheep.
“My sheep turn into other animals or forget all about the fence and go off doing other things.” –Bethany
“I always think, ‘Where are these sheep? Who do they belong to? Why are they jumping the fence? Should we stop them from jumping over the fence? Is that how sheep actually look when they jump? What is this fence made out of?’ etc., etc., etc.” –Jillian
“ Every time the sheep try to jump, they jump straight into the threshold head first. I can’t for the life of me get an imaginary lamb to successfully clear the jump! I never even get to count to two! They have always done this to me!” –Stephanie
“I could never get past figuring out why the stupid sheep are jumping a fence. What’s the point of the fence if the sheep can jump over. And if they can jump the fence, why would they do it one at a time. Wouldn’t they as the mood led them? Why isn’t the shepherd paying attention to the fact his sheep are all escaping, one at a time? Nope. I think the sheep actually keep me up later.” –Jenn
“When I was a kid….all the way through my high school years…. I always just told myself a story. That worked so well for me as a child. Almost too well…there were times that I couldn’t wait to get to bed because I wanted to continue my story! Never, ever did I finish them. I just changed to a new plot when I got bored of them.” –Tina
“My sheep don’t go over the fence because they start chatting with the other sheep and don’t notice a wolf sneaking up. The shepherding dog desperately tries to get their attention but they keep talking and all the sudden are running for their lives and then…” –Randie
“My sheep usually try hard to jump this fence but just can’t do it. Either they don’t have the skills or the fence grows as they are jumping. And then I get angry and give up trying to jump my sheep.” –J
“My sheep crash into things! Also I have a lot of anxiety about when I inevitably lose track of the sheep. Was that 4 sheep or 6?? (If I get that far.) How will I know if some of my sheep have wandered off if I lose track while I am counting them??” –Rebekah
This is a glimpse into the mind of a person with ADHD. Our brains work like this 24-7, and we greatly struggle to shut them off. I hope you found this entertaining and insightful. You’re welcome –I think.
P.S. All the quotes are used by permission. Thanks to the ladies from Homeschool Moms with ADHD Facebook group for their contribution to this post.
I apologize for the length of this post. I am warning you ahead of time that it is over 5,000 words –which is long even for me. As I have done in the past when I wrote extremely long and detailed posts, I have broken this article into sections with titles and italicized important information. If you just read the headings and the italics you should get the gist of the article. I did that just for you. Because I love you.
For the last few decades as the internet has become more a part of our lives, articles and news reports of the evils and dangers of media and video games have grown increasingly common. It is not lost on me that the media is hating on media. Unfortunately, often these articles and news reports are fraught with hype and hysteria and in many cases with nearly no source material to back it up. It is a sensational concept and makes great clickbait, but how valid are those claims and assertions?
That is what we are going to discuss in this blog post.
Now, being cautious isn’t always a bad thing. Being aware of actual problems is prudent, but we need to be sure our information is based on fact and not internet drivel. Let’s face it, there is a lot of misinformation on the internet –as any parent of an ADHD child knows well. And, even those who say that media, video games, and TV are dangerous rarely actually stop using them. So, do they even really believe what they are preaching? Case in point: how often does someone post about how evil Facebook is while on Facebook?
The answer is that it is complicated, but in most cases, the answer is no.
Media has educational benefits
First of all, it is important to point out the benefits of media. Educational apps, games, and videos have made it possible for visual-tactile learners to get information in a way that works better for their brains. Not all learning styles learn best by reading and lectures. Just because that is how it has always been done doesn’t mean that works best for everyone.
Since approximately 50% of ADHDers have learning disabilities, media can provide excellent resources for struggling children. Text-to-speech is a significant aid for those with dyslexia, for example. My son has dysgraphia and uses speech-to-text frequently. He also does best with online learning or any type of learning which doesn’t require handwriting as this is an area in which he struggles. I cannot imagine how challenging it would be to educate him if we lived 50 or 100 years ago! Newer research shows that game-based math (like online math, for example) work better for all children even those without learning disabilities. Online math programs also help children with learning disabilities by offering a more customized learning experience. Many children with these disorders were simply left behind in times past. In fact, I have an older relative with dyslexia who graduated from high school without knowing how to read or write. He was simply moved along to the next grade level because the school didn’t know what to do with him. Technology has made living with learning disabilities much simpler.
Multi-sensory learning provided by media is more effective
Social media and screen time scare is not backed by science
“Frequent social media use and screen time have been portrayed as universally bad for our health. However, a lot of research on this phenomenon has been characterized by poorly done studies and bad science. The vast majority of evidence suggests that our smartphones are not uniformly harmful, and in some cases, they may be a force for good…The vast majority of the large and well-designed statistical studies on smartphones and the brain actually suggest these technologies are having little to no effect on our health and well-being. And in some cases, the availability of social media and phones may be a power for good.” from Erin Brodwin at Business Insider. I encourage you to follow the link and read the whole article. Erin has some great points.
Correlation is not causation
Please, when you are considering this issue, remember that correlation is not causation. Just because two things are happening at the same time doesn’t mean that they are connected or that one caused the other. Here is an entertaining, media-based explanation of correlation versus causation that is likely to help you understand and appreciate the concept better. Remember what I mentioned above that media makes learning more enjoyable and that it helps us retain the information? Just because a child has a bad attitude while playing video games doesn’t mean that the video games caused the bad attitude.
World Health Organization declares video game addiction legitimate
In order for it to be a legitimate gaming addiction, it must meet some pretty strict criteria. Most children —even most ADHD children– will not meet these criteria. I know a lot of people who love video games, but I have yet to meet anyone who actually has bonafide withdrawals from not playing video games as Griffith describes in the quote above. I have played games on and off for decades. I can go for months or years without playing a game with no problem.
My problems with the WHO’s criteria and description of gaming addiction is that it looks an awful lot like ADHD hyperfocus or even autistic special interests. I wouldn’t have as much of an issue if the criteria specified that the condition should only be diagnosed if there wasn’t another condition that explained the symptoms (perhaps that is assumed?).
What if I was obsessed with painting? All I wanted to do was paint, and I ignored everything else in my life to paint. It started affecting my family, my school, my work because I was completely obsessed with painting.Is that an addiction? Or is it a passion?If I was a gifted painter, no one would think twice about me acting like this. Under the WHO’s approach, the Absent Minded Professor would have been diagnosed with addiction to science. Are we now going to put those with ADHD, autism or those who are gifted through a 12-step program because symptoms of their known conditions are being misdiagnosed as an addiction? I think this is a slippery slope and that the criteria for addiction need to be better defined.
Our culture views video games as evil
Also, what a way to spin a great thing and make it seem horrible. As an ADHD person, I find it outrageous and repugnant that my hyperfocus would be misconstrued as an addiction. But in our culture, it is generally considered okay to be obsessed with painting or anything that produces a tangible result –but not okay to be obsessed with anything on a screen. Remember: screens are evil, right? That was established as a cultural belief decades ago, but I have yet to see any science that says screens are actually evil.
Screens are not evil. They are amoral… neither right or wrong. What we do with them makes them right or wrong just like I can use a bat to play baseball or I can beat someone to death with it. It is not the bat’s fault that I used it for evil. The bat itself is not responsible for the evil that was done with it. That bat is not inherently evil. It didn’t cause the evil. The responsibility belongs to the human behind the bat –or in the case of video games the human in front of the screen.
Hyperfocus is my superpower (Can I trade it for flight? Or invisibility?)
In fact, this article you are reading is actually brought to you by ADHD hyperfocus. I heard about the WHO’s decision about 10am this morning, and it is almost midnight now. I spent nearly all day reading and working on this article because my brain is completely captivated by the topic (by the time I finished the post it was 3 days later). This is not a bad thing. I consider hyperfocus to be my superpower. I am thrilled that my brain works this way and refuse to let anyone say that it is okay to try to make ADHD people feel ashamed of their hyperfocus.
There currently isn’t really a standard treatment plan for gaming addiction. The treatments I have seen recommended are similar to a 12-step plan –and in some cases, children are actually attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings because there’s no support available yet for gaming addiction. As of when I’m writing this, I know of a family whose child is going to AA for gaming addiction. The problem with sending an ADHD child to AA is this: ADHD is a regulation disorder, and AA is based on your ability to self-regulate. AA is self-willed and self-driven, but what if, by the very nature of your neurological condition you are not strong in the area of self-control?It is widely known that ADHDers struggle in this area of regulation. In his video series, Dr. Russell Barkley discusses that this regulation struggle can take many forms: physical (like hyperactivity), emotional (like outbursts), or mental (like hyperfocus). I’m not sure that a 12-step program is the best way to help an ADHD child regulate themselves better –especially when we have proven scientific, medical methods to do it.
What if gaming addiction is really part of a different disorder?
Another myth that is passed around the internet is that all ADHDers are addicts. I have been told that all ADHDers will get addicted to something because they just cannot help it. I have been told that we ADHDers are even addicted to our own medications and that those medications cause addiction, even though research doesn’t back that up.
Although, as we mentioned above, the Columbine High Massacre in 1999 was blamed on video games, music, Dungeons and Dragons, and even bullying, further research has shown the true issue: the perpetrator, Eric Harris, had severe psychiatric disorders including “a disturbed personality with prominent antisocial, narcissistic, and sadistic traits.” This is not surprising, because mentally healthy, emotionally stable individuals do not go shoot up a school murdering a bunch of innocent people. A healthy person doesn’t see a movie or video game with a murder and say “Gee, I think I would like to do that” –not even if he was bullied. Lots of kids, including me, are and were bullied. It made me a more kind, more compassionate person –not violent.
If you are concerned that your child is going to exhibit these characteristics as a result of exposure to media, then look into the dark triad disorders and sadism and be aware of the symptoms –it is pretty obvious when a child is exhibiting these. Many ADHDers are highly sensitive and suffer from rejection sensitive dysphoria making it unlikely that they would engage in activities to intentionally hurt other people. Many ADHDers are extremely empathetic and the idea of hurting others would be too painful to handle.
I once read an article explaining that children with ODD, bipolar, and conduct disorder can get more violent when exposed to media and video games. These children are already experiencing a social disconnect, the writer explained. Media can increase that disconnect making the child more aggressive when he or she walks away from it. I cannot find the article I read, but here is a study that has some similar findings. If your ADHD child has one of these comorbid conditions (like ODD, BPD, or CD), you need to be aware that screen time could cause increased aggression. But, again, there is an explanation for it, and it is not addiction.
Why do ADHD children react this way? They have big feelings and lack the ability to regulate those feelings due to the underdeveloped parts of their brains. It is not that they are addicted to TV or video games. Every child experiences disappointment when mom turns off the TV or says they cannot play video games anymore. But, an ADHD child may be unable to contain his disappointment due to his poor regulation which results in a meltdown. Many parents –like me back when my kids were young– freak out that their child is addicted to screen time without knowing that the real cause is the ADHD. After we all got diagnosed with ADHD, their reaction to screen time started to make so much more sense.
A friend of mine pointed out that parents often refer to this as “an addiction” for lack of a better way to describe it. A more accurate description would be, “My ADHD child is failing to regulate their emotions regarding media and video games.”
While addiction to games is possible, it is not likely
We should approach this topic informed. We should be aware that the possibility exists that gaming addiction could be a problem, but that it is exceptionally rare. We should not call the symptoms ADHD or other psychiatric conditions “an addiction” when we know there are other explanations.
I wrote a post about using motivation tactics similar to gamification to help my son completed his chores. Although I received a lot of online hate for giving my child half a dozen mini M&Ms (which is just silly since that is hardly any sugar), it worked really well! I know now that rewarding him with a small piece of chocolate after each task was motivating just like he might receive a small reward for a quest in a video game. This worked so well that after a while he didn’t even need the chocolate anymore. He is now able to complete his chores without it, but at the beginning, it really made a difference in his motivation level.
I haven’t even addressed how useful media and video games can be in helping calm ADHD children with comorbidities like sensory processing disorder, autism or anxiety disorders.
Gamification is a fabulous tool
So, not only is gaming not evil and most likely not the source of the ADHD child’s problems, but it could be a huge answer for many parents who ask how they can motivate their child. Make a game out of it! Every parent knows that children –whether ADHD or not– do better when you can make the tasks fun. That is even more true for ADHD children. Don’t believe me? Listen to Jessica from How to ADHD explain how gamification has helped her.
So back to our original questions: Are TV, media, and video games dangerous for my child? No, they can even be useful tools. Will my child become addicted to them by using them? According to what I have read, probably not, unless they have symptoms not already explained by their developmental disorders or psychiatric conditions. But, due to their ADHD, they may need help regulating themselves.Dr. Barkley calls this scaffolding.
It is unlikely that the gaming addiction condition is as common as the parents who are concerned their children have it.
I hope you found this post helpful. There are many links in the post to follow if you are interested in learning more about this topic and if you want to know where I got my information. Let’s learn the facts and stop hating on video games and media. Instead, let’s use them as a force for good!
And, let’s not give into the uproar created by the media.