The Surprising Benefits of Chess for Individuals with ADHD

By, Cheryl Tierney, MD, MPH; Chief Medical Officer of Meliora Health and Jane Potter Baumer, CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist, Meliora Health

“It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it, I can dominate it, and it’s predictable. So, if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.” – Beth Harmon, Queen’s Gambit

Chess, often considered a game of intellect and strategy, is more than just a recreational activity; it is a powerful tool for mental development and cognitive training. For individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), chess offers a unique set of benefits that can significantly enhance cognitive functions, improve focus, and foster essential life skills. [1]

Enhancing Focus and Concentration

One of the primary challenges faced by individuals with ADHD is maintaining focus and concentration. Chess, with its requirement for sustained attention and strategic thinking, provides an excellent exercise for the brain. Each move demands careful consideration and foresight, encouraging players to stay engaged for extended periods. This practice helps improves players’ ability to concentrate, which can translate into better focus in other areas of their lives, such as academic and professional work.

Improving Executive Function

Executive function encompasses a set of cognitive processes that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control, areas in which individuals with ADHD struggle. Chess requires players to plan several moves ahead, consider possible outcomes, and adjust strategies dynamically. This constant engagement in complex problem-solving can strengthen executive function. For example, when a player anticipates an opponent’s moves, that player exercises working memory and enhances flexible thinking.

Developing Patience and Impulse Control

ADHD is frequently associated with impulsivity and a lack of patience. Chess is a game that rewards patience and punishes hasty decisions. Players must think carefully before making a move, considering all possible consequences. This necessity for deliberate action helps individuals with ADHD learn to control impulsive behavior. Over time, this can lead to better decision-making skills both within and outside the game.

Boosting Self-Esteem and Confidence

Engaging in chess can also have a positive impact on self-esteem and confidence. Mastering the rules, developing strategies, and seeing improvement over time provides players a sense of accomplishment. For individuals with ADHD, who may often face challenges in academic or social environments, success in chess can be particularly empowering. It offers a tangible measure of their cognitive abilities and progress, fostering a positive self-image.

Encouraging Social Interaction

“Caruana Virus” at 50th United States Amateur Team East, Feb 15-17, 2020
Bd 1: Jesse Lozano, Complete Chess
Bd 2: Evan Rabin, Premier Chess
Bd 3: NM Bob Holliman
Bd 4: Shelby Lohrman, American Chess Equipment

While chess is often seen as a solitary game, it also provides opportunities for social interaction. Chess clubs, tournaments, and online platforms connect players from different backgrounds, encouraging communication and collaboration. For individuals with ADHD, who may struggle with social skills, chess offers a structured way to engage with others. This can help improve social abilities and provide a supportive community of peers with similar interests.

Providing a Safe Outlet for Energy

ADHD often involves hyperactivity, which can be challenging to channel constructively. Chess provides a mentally stimulating outlet for this energy. The excitement of strategic play and the intense focus required can absorb the hyperactive tendencies, giving individuals a productive way to expend their energy. This mental engagement can be as satisfying as physical activity, offering a balanced approach to managing hyperactivity.

Chess is more than just a game; it is a valuable tool for cognitive development and emotional growth. For individuals with ADHD, the benefits of playing chess are manifold, ranging from improved focus and executive function to enhanced patience and social interaction. By integrating chess into their routine, individuals with ADHD can harness these advantages, leading to better management of their symptoms and a more fulfilling life. Whether played casually or competitively, chess offers a constructive and enjoyable way to strengthen the mind and develop essential life skills.

[1] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.06.111

Meliora provides high quality, detailed multidisciplinary assessments for children and teens who are concerned that they may have ADHD or autism, and provides them access to services that will support their development.

2 thoughts on “The Surprising Benefits of Chess for Individuals with ADHD”

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