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How Do Video Games Help With Learning Disabilities?

A young student plays with a tablet.

Learning disabilities are extremely common. According to Psychology Today, an estimated 6.1 million US children are affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) alone. In addition, according to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia affects about 14 percent of school-aged children.

These disorders present different challenges to student learning. ADHD symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity can make focusing hard for students, which hampers their learning. Children with dyslexia may struggle with phonemic awareness, or the ability to sound out individual letters when spoken, read, or written. Psychology Today reports that around 20 percent of Americans with phonemic awareness difficulties can struggle to read.

To address the challenges learning disabilities present, some teachers are turning to an unexpected resource: video games. But how, exactly, do video games help with learning disabilities?

Traditional Learning Disability Interventions

Learning disabilities impact not only students’ academic performance but also their confidence and self-esteem. Traditional therapy often includes the use of pharmacological interventions to manage symptoms. These interventions have been shown to be effective in reducing learning barriers. For example, stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are commonly prescribed medications to treat ADHD in children.

Other traditional therapies, such as nonpharmacological interventions, have also been shown to be effective in helping children overcome the challenges posed by their learning disabilities. Nonpharmacological treatments include:

  • Mnemonic devices to aid memorization
  • Illustrating word problems to help a child using visualization
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to address emotional or behavioral problems associated with a learning disorder

However, certain interventions may not be suitable for some patients due to caregivers’ personal preferences, barriers to access, lack of insurance coverage, or a shortage of qualified mental health professionals.

Video Games: An Alternative Interventional Approach

Video games present a possible alternative or supplement to traditional intervention strategies. According to a recent study in the Lancet, playing a video game for 25 minutes a day may help address gaps in pharmacological interventions and behavioral therapies for students with learning disabilities.

Researchers have also found that using video games can help students overcome challenges. For example, educational video games have shown positive effects in improving attention in students with learning disabilities. The educational video games Boogies Academy and Cuibrain help reduce anxiety levels and improve attention, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

How Video Games Help With Learning Disabilities

The video game format offers advantages over interventional strategies that require in-person visits, including accessibility, engagement, and interactivity.

Accessibility

Digital formats are easier to access than in-person visits. Plus, today’s children are typically familiar with technology and digital devices, so they are less resistant to digital therapies than traditional therapies. And when video games are easily accessible, repetition is enabled. Repeating a learning activity helps children with learning disabilities solidify new skills and knowledge.

Engagement

Video games are typically more fun for children than traditional learning interventions. As a result, the appeal of video games for learning is high among school-age children with learning disabilities. Children are willing to spend more time practicing new skills on a device than with other learning tools because of the fun factor.

Digital tools such as video games can help children with learning disabilities by creating realistic and interactive environments. By capturing children’s attention through engaging activities that they enjoy doing, video games promote cognitive processes.

Interactivity

Interactivity is another benefit of video games for learning disabilities. Many games are offered online, allowing mental health professionals, educators, and others to remotely monitor a child’s progress and make adjustments, such as adapting goals. Interactive video games promote social behavior, competition, and motivation by connecting players online.

Examples of Video Game Therapy Tools

  • The video game AKL-T01 is an investigational digital therapy designed to target attention and cognitive control symptoms. Students get a high-end video game experience that keeps them engaged and immersed through music, storytelling, and reward cycles.

    As part of a randomized study, over 300 children with ADHD between the ages of eight and 12 were taken off their medications to test the effectiveness of AKL-T01 without pharmacological intervention. According to the study’s results, this novel digital therapeutic might help with improving attention in ADHD students.

  • Fast ForWord is a video training program designed to help students with dyslexia. The American Psychological Association published findings from a study investigating the use of Fast ForWord. This video training program targets “attention, processing, cognitive, linguistic and reading skills” through “highly individualized cross-training.”

    For example, an interactive game provides students with points for distinguishing the different sounds of similar-sounding letters, such as distinguishing “ba” from “pa.” Other games help students improve their brain processing speed and grammar skills.

    The study results showed that these digital therapeutic programs delivered vast improvements, reducing the time for treatments to take effect from years of intervention to weeks.

Help Transform Society Through Equitable Education

Technology has played a critical role in transforming the education system and creating opportunities in special education. Educators looking to incorporate technology in teaching to help children with learning disabilities thrive can advance their competencies by pursuing a degree at American University’s School of Education Online.

American’s Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership prepare educators and leaders to transform the special education system. Coursework such as Education Leadership, Education Program and Policy Implementation, and Teaching Science in Elementary School teaches students essential skills to help graduates impact the lives of children with learning disabilities.

Learn more about the master’s in teaching and master’s in education policy and leadership at American University’s School of Education Online and the school’s innovative approach to education and leadership.

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