The rise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has coincided with the rise of mobile devices and other gadgets, and studies are finding that ADHD has become the most common childhood behavioral condition, according to Mashable.com.
According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, children on average spend nearly seven and a half hours each day staring at screens, up 20 percent from just five years ago.
In the US, 6 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and reports have said that one in five children has some form of mental health illness.
ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder with symptoms of exaggerated levels of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, restlessness, depression, and impulsivity.
Physical manifestations of ADHD include excessive or inappropriately timed fidgeting, running or climbing, yelling and interrupting, an inability to wait his/her turn, and a difficulty remaining still and quiet for prolonged periods. Medication is used to temporarily alleviate these disruptive behaviors.
So how do these numbers coincide with the rise in children who can’t seem to live without their gadgets?
According to Christopher Lucas, associate professor of child psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, kids focus on video games and television in a different way than the attention they’ll use to thrive in school and life.
“It’s not sustained attention in the absence of rewards,” he said. “It’s sustained attention with frequent intermittent rewards.”
Instant rewards throughout the games that children play provide their brains with the chemical dopamine, “a neurotransmitter that’s released each time they ‘win.’ ”
“The chemical is often at the center of ADHD and their love affair with electronics. And some experts even believe children seek out those screens because they have problems with their dopamine systems.”
In fact, one of the drugs prescribed to treat ADHD, Ritalin, controls ADHD by increasing dopamine activity.
Researchers are reluctant to say there is a direct correlation between gadgets and ADHD, but there are strong parallels between the upswing in diagnoses and an increase of screen time.
One finding is that children and young adults who overdo TV and video games are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a variety of attention span disorders, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics.
“Part of the problem is the fragmented, fast-paced nature of electronic media. Dimitri Christakis, the George Adkins Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle, found that the faster-paced shows increased the risk of attention issues.
“The brains of children adapt to that speedy pace, and when they’re forced to work in the slower pace of life, they struggle to pay attention because it isn’t as stimulating or rewarding.”
While it’s great to allow a kid some time to unwind with their gizmos and gadgets, but could too much time with these items be a reason for the spike in ADHD diagnosis?
Scientists aren’t sure, but they do agree that the first step to finding a cure is to understand the causes and conditions.