Playing video games could be good for children with ADD/HD. This may come as a big surprise to parents who might think that video games are at best a waste of time and at worst turn their children into wired zombies. A company called Cyberlearning Technology is betting that play video games will benefit children with ADD/HD. They have developed a product called S.M.A.R.T. BrainGames which has exclusive use of technology developed by NASA to improve pilot’s attention while flying.
The child with ADD/HD won’t be playing Grand Theft Auto but the system does enable play with some off the shelf games, especially those involving racing or jumping. The child puts on a helmet with three sensors. Data feeds into a smart box hanging around the player’s neck and hooked into Play Station 2. The data is processed with a program that affects the game.
People with ADD/HD or with cognitive disabilities produce large amounts of slower brain waves, like those created while we sleep or when we daydream. This makes staying focused very difficult. The headgear monitors the player’s brain waves and the child uses a controller modified by CyberLearning Technology. For example in a racecar game as focus improves the car can go faster but if focus wanders the player looses to other players. The system also measures stress. If the child experiences nervousness, she has more problems in steering the car. The goal is to have a child who is calm and focused.
Biofeedback is not new to the treatment of ADD/HD but a study published in the Berkeley Medical Journal found that children using standard feedback systems and those using the modified video game system both showed significant improvement. However, the video gamers were much more motivated and there were fewer no shows and no dropouts. Because the children already knew how to play video games, the cost of treatment was less because no time needed to be spent on instruction. Cyberlearning Technology also believes that the system can be used on a do it yourself basis.
As of 2004 the company claimed more than 50 clinics using S.M.A.R.T.
BrainGames technology and it has partnered with psychologists and pediatricians. In April of 2005 the company began selling the system on the Internet and by November had sold between 1200 and 1300 units. Each system costs $562.
Aside from the small study already mentioned, there have been no independent studies of this technology and it should be approached with cautious optimism. Most experts advise continuing medication even if you decide to have your child use the S.M.A.R.T. BrainGames.