Fidget spinners: friend or foe?

If you have or have been around a child in the past month, you’ve likely seen or heard of the fidget spinner or the fidget cube. The toys have been popping up everywhere, boasting claims they facilitate stress relief, boost concentration, and offer an outlet for those with ADD, ADHD, anxiety and autism. We asked Molly Gerke, BS, CCLS, certified child life specialist, to share more on the validity of these popular gadgets.

The benefits.
Fidgets are effective for children that have the diagnosis of ADHD and utilize the fidget as a way to self-regulate symptoms. Individuals that have ADHD have difficulty staying alert during class or a task that does not interest them. Research shows that movement or fidgeting identified as a secondary task (engaging in an activity that uses other senses than the one required for primary task) can be beneficial for focus, information absorption and memory. Secondary tasks are mindless and do not require the brain to think, instead allowing the brain to stay alert. Secondary tasks are also known as fidgets.

Is it the right fit?
Not everyone benefits from fidgets. Individuals who already have the ability to stay alert and focus entirely on a primary task would become distracted and less productive if a fidget were to be utilized.  Fidgets are to be individualized by the person’s needs. Fidgets can be in different forms and engage different senses depending on what type of senses need to be stimulated in order for the brain to settle in and focus. Fidgets can come in different categories: movement and sensory fidgets (spinner, cube, Velcro, exercise ball, etc.), fidgets for visual thinkers (vibrating pencil and Wikki Stix), and auditory apps (apps with different sounds or ways to promote mindfulness, music, soft noises, etc.).

When fidgets are utilized as a tool and not as a toy they can help the children who need them to focus, learn and increase memory.

Are there any drawbacks?
In schools, there could be students using the fidgets not for the intended purpose. Even students who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and are allowed to utilize the fidget may take that as a privilege or bragging right, which could turn the fidget from a tool to a toy because it is something others can’t have. This type of jealousy could become a huge disruption to the classroom. If not used for intended purpose fidgets will disrupt the classroom environment and create distraction. Fidgets are supposed to be silent, unobtrusive, tactile, safe, and approved by the teacher. The teacher should have the ultimate say and should understand who in the classroom needs a fidget, and if so, what fidget they can have. The teacher should have the right to take the fidget away if the child misuses and turns it into a toy.


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