Video Games And Learning Disabilities: Let’s find the link

If the number 9 is painted on the floor horizontally and two people stand on opposite sides of it, one will be likely to interpret it as 6 and the other as 9.

Neither of the individuals will be wrong; they will just have their unique perspectives and way of understanding information. 

Similar is the case with individuals with learning differences. They have a unique way of perceiving and interpreting the world and the knowledge and information it presents to them. The problem arises when individuals with learning concerns are expected to benefit from generalized school curricula that are usually designed keeping the neurotypical majority in mind. This would be a circumstance similar to the person seeing a six insisting the person seeing a nine also interpret it as a six.

So, alternative methods of teaching, like using video games, could present a serious opportunity to advance understanding and learning, not just for individuals with learning differences but for all students and learners. 

This blog discusses the connections between video games and learning differences, presents examples of how video games can be beneficial for individuals with learning differences, and gives tips to effectively use them to enhance learning outcomes.

Video games and learning differences: Connection explored

People who have learning differences like dyslexia or dyscalculia do not, in any way, lack intelligence or potential for success, they just have a different brain activity. They just require curriculums designed in a way that will build on their strengths to better their weaknesses. Video games, in this scenario, provide one such golden opportunity. Previously only looked at as a way of having fun, the potential of learning through video games is being increasingly recognized and capitalized upon by the EdTech industry. 

Rightfully so because several studies have shown the beneficial effects of action video games which test the gamer’s speed and load their senses with a lot of active peripheral stimuli that require constant attention as well as discrimination and rapid motor movements. For individuals with learning differences, especially dyslexia, these action video games have been shown to greatly improve attention and reading abilities. The reasons for the same have been cited as the great number of stimuli bombarding the senses helps these individuals improve their attention as well as reduce the time required to shift it from one stimulus to another. They also help individuals integrate visual stimuli like letters and words with phonological ones, greatly helping with the key difficulty faced by individuals with dyslexia[1].

Video games provide a medium to keep the learners engaged and actively immerse them in the lesson, like taking them on an underwater sea dive to learn about sea animals that just write their names on the board. They have also been found to help significantly in enhancing and strengthening various cognitive skills like short-term memory, attention, speed, and accuracy of performing a task, as well as perceptual and visual-spatial abilities[2]. Additionally, another recent study by Lancet has posited that playing video games can help individuals with learning differences by addressing concerns that therapeutic and pharmacological interventions haven’t been able to address till now.

Examples of games helping individuals with learning concerns

Since video games provide the independence of choosing the exact topic or concern the individual wants to work on and provide an interactive and engaging alternative to do the same while setting your own pace, time, and difficulty, they become an excellent learning tool and alternative for individuals who do not or cannot benefit from the traditional methods of teaching that primarily cater to neurotypical individuals. A prime example of that is individuals with learning differences like Jenny, James, and Mary.

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1. Meet Jenny – Maths video games

Jenny is a 12-year-old student with dyscalculia who had recently been introduced to the concept of algebra in school. She has always had a hard time in math classes, but now that they include letters as well, she is having even more trouble understanding and remembering various new rules and concepts. 

Jenny’s teacher recommends that she play some interactive video games that can better help her clarify the basic concepts underlying algebra. She also recommends that she play some games for other basic arithmetic skills like addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions, etc., so that her previous conceptual learning is also strengthened.

Taking a video game approach to learning math that gradually increases the level of difficulty, teaches in an interactive manner, and incentivizes correct answers and good performance can not help students better understand the concepts but also in retaining them.

2. Meet James – Vocational skills games

James is a 9-year-old boy with dyslexia who feels really confused and lost whenever people ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. Since he struggles at school more than his peers without dyslexia, he feels no matter what he chooses; he won’t be much good at it.

James’ teacher recommends he play various vocational games available for little learners. Through them, he can not only discover various options of what he can pursue as a career but can also realize his strengths and interests, as well as build on them.

Video games for vocational skills have a wide range, from very specific ones that cater to an individual profession to general skills required in almost all professions. They also differ in their level of difficulty, having age-appropriate options for even little learners. Virtually applying oneself in these games can help the individual in realizing and building upon strengths and interests they couldn’t have discovered in their daily life.

3. Meet Mary – Attention and situational awareness video games

Mary grew up with a developmental learning concern called dyslexia. She had trouble with reading, comprehending, and even writing. Since almost every subject required her to decode English first, she soon began to lose interest in school and would often find her attention elsewhere during classes.

Along with some specialized English lessons, Mary’s teacher also recommended she play attention and situational awareness-related video games for about 30-45 minutes every day. By the end of the semester, Mary found herself actively engaging in and performing at average in all of her classes.

Attention and situational awareness are essential, not just for school and classes but also for life. It is how an individual does not end up running headfirst into a moving vehicle that might have ignored the stop signs. It is also how an individual does not end up putting salt instead of sugar in their tea. Video games can be an effective tool to enhance attention and be more present at the moment.

Crucial points to consider while employing video games for learning

Video games are useful educational tools that can be used to teach and clarify concepts and build and strengthen skills. To effectively use video games as a learning tool, certain tips need to be kept in mind:

1. Understand your individual needs

While selecting a game, it is important to first understand what the particular needs of the individual are. More often than not, the underlying problem is different from the way a concern presents itself. For example, an individual with dyslexia who has difficulties remembering spellings could have a hard time writing as well as an individual who has trouble remembering rules of speech and grammar. 

Since the core problem for both of these individuals is different, the kind of games they should be playing to help them will also be different. This is why the first step in finding a video game that potentially can and will help the individual is discovering what the requirements of the individual are.

2. Find a game that caters to those requirements.

Finding a game that caters to the exact concerns the individual is facing and starts at a level of difficulty that is appropriate for the age and learning stage the individual is at could be a cumbersome task. 

Thankfully there are various educational blogs and articles available these days that provide resources and links to freely available educational games for various issues, topics, subjects, and concerns.

Since most games cater to, test, and build a wide variety of skills, the individual can opt for the one they find the most interesting and closely related to the concern they want to work on.

3. Limit screen time

As has been posited, video games are no doubt an amazing educational tool. But they do require the individual to spend a significant amount of time on the screen, which can have negative repercussions for their physical, mental and social health. 

This is why it is important for parents and educators to specify the amount of time an individual should be spending on a particular game and limit the learners’ screen time across all mediums, including the TV, iPad, phones, etc.


Video games are undoubtedly a new and innovative method of teaching and learning. The new advancements in the EdTech field combine the fun of gaming with the benefits of education.

These games are especially beneficial for individuals with learning differences as they help in enhancing various skills like attention, visual-spatial abilities, reading, comprehension, math, etc. 

To effectively use video games to enhance educational outcomes for individuals with learning differences, it is important that the specific needs of the individuals are identified, games meeting those particular needs are selected, and last but not least, screen time is limited.


  1. Franceschini, S., Trevisan, P., Ronconi, L., Bertoni, S., Colmar, S., Double, K., … & Gori, S. (2017). Action video games improve reading abilities and visual-to-auditory attentional shifting in English-speaking children with dyslexia. Scientific reports, 7(1), 1-12.
  2. Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2003). Action video game modifies visual selective attention. Nature, 423(6939), 534-537.

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