Fidget spinners are infesting the popular culture of schools across the nation, and it would seem these fidget devices have appeared out of nowhere! Thanks to Amazon.com, nothing appears out of nowhere any longer.
Psychologists have recommended fidget devices for kids who are ADHD or on the Autism Spectrum for years. Such devices have included worry putty, bouncy chairs, Koosh balls, and rubber bands. All of these devices are designed to provide an outlet for excess impulsive energy which allows for greater concentration.
“Do fidgets work? Yes…for the right kind of kid.” – Dr. Gaskill
Mellissa Ferry, a special education instructor, describes a particular case in which students who were given stress balls increased their scores on writing assessments. Children with a diagnosis of ADHD also improved their results by a significant percentage. Julie Schweitzer published an article in the Journal of Child Neuropsychology in which she assessed fidgeting on intellectual performance in children ages 10 through 17. In her work, ADHD kids performed much better the more they specifically engaged in fidget devices. In her study, typical children with no diagnoses did not see a similar increase in their scores.
ADHD kids performed much better the more they specifically engaged in fidget devices.
Research suggests fidget devices improve the performance of kids who are specifically diagnosed with issues related to attention and impulse control. As a psychologist and a parent, I have seen significant benefits with fidget devices and spinners and continue to recommend them as a part of my private practice. These devices seem to work. However, I offer a word of caution.
Schools seem to be broadly banning these devices. Black-and-white dogmatic thinking does not apply when it comes to fidget devices. Thanks to the Internet, these devices have become not only commonplace but a distraction to classroom instruction. Banning such devices does not solve the issue and blurs the line between a toy and a therapeutic device.
My advice to school systems, parents, and educational professionals are the following:
1. These devices are really cool and the sensory stimulation provides some children a level of distraction which improves concentration.
2. Spinners in particular have demonstrated an increased interest in physics, the role of ball bearings, and WD-40. What an interesting conversation we can have with children regarding science! Shouldn’t we not engage in this discussion? And secondarily, should we not also engage in a conversation about how these can be distractors as well as tools?
3. Children who live on the autism spectrum and also those diagnosed as ADHD do benefit from therapeutic tools which reduce distraction and improve attention. Future study needs to be conducted regarding spinners, but the possibility that these devices are helpful at least anecdotally point to these devices as a positive therapeutic tool.
4. Schools must refrain from dogmatic and sweeping commendations of educational strategies which may benefit certain populations. Black-and-white thinking reduces problem-solving and critical thinking strategies which must be encouraged in developing minds.
Finally, try out a spinner you for yourself. These things are really cool and they feel awesome in your hands. They may actually help you replace that nasty habit of chewing gum or fidgeting in your seat in the workplace. Open your mind and give it a try!