Occupational therapists know the benefits of “fidget tools” for children with sensory-processing problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“For some people [with ADHD], there's a need for constant stimulation,” Elaine Taylor-Klaus, a co-founder of a coaching service for children with attention disorders and their parents, told CNN.
“What a fidget [tool] allows some people -- not all people -- with ADHD to do is to focus their attention on what they want to focus on because there's sort of a background motion that's occupying that need,” explained Taylor-Klaus.
A child with ADHD can be seen using a squeeze ball, playing a piece of clay, or sitting on exercise ball while in class. These actions, which can be distracting for kids without a learning disability, can help improve focus and concentration in kids who have trouble doing so.
Recently, a fidget tool meant for kids with ADHD has become a "hot toy" among kids, with or without sensory-processing problems. The fidget spinner is a colorful, handheld gizmo that has a ball-bearing center, which, with a flick of a finger, allows it to spin seemingly frictionless and with a beguiling balance. Kids have begun bringing them into classrooms under the guise that the fidget spinners will help them with school work.
At Reach International School here in Manila, an inclusive academic institution that caters to regular students and students with learning disabilities and special needs, fidget spinners are popular with grades 1-4 students.
"I observed that students in my class who are kind of hyperactive benefit from fidget spinners. Instead of standing up constantly in class, they tend to stay still while using it," says Michiko Gonzalez, one of the school's math teachers.
Gonzalez says she is okay with her students bringing it in school especially among those who know when to use it, but she admits a few students get distracted.
Based on her observation, Erika Digno, who teaches English at the same school, says fidget spinners work on students who need help focusing on their work. Students who get distracted are the ones who don't need these fidget spinners. "They use them as toys," she explains.
A U.S. middle school counselor Jennifer Horn, interviewed on NPR for the Weekend Edition Saturday show, "absolutely hate spinners.”
“They'll spin it -- above the desk, usually -- and kids move it through the air. They try to spin it on their noses and their elbows and kind of play around with it like a toy. And then there's usually kids looking at the child playing with the spinner. It's just pretty distracting.”
More and more schools in the U.S. have banned them from classrooms including ones from major cities like Chicago and New York. We've also had parents tell us that their children's school have banned them from classrooms as well.
The problem: The fidget spinner is too much like a toy than a tool. The very thing that should be helping your child focus may be too distracting.
“Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” said Mark Rapport, a clinical psychologist at the University of Central Florida who has studied the benefits of movement on attention in people with ADHD, as reported by Live Science. He explained that “small non-distracting movements,” like the one provided by sitting on an exercise ball at a work desk, may be more beneficial to those with ADHD.
“Kids with ADHD can get really hyperfocused on things that they really find interesting, often to the exclusion of other things going on around,” said Dr. Rachele McCarthey, a psychiatrist at the University of Utah’s Behavioral Health Clinic, as reported by Inquirer.net. The “whirring and the abundance of visual action” from the fidget spinner can put too much attention on the gadget rather than the lesson on the blackboard.
So what’s to be done? Just like all fidget tools, purpose and individual needs must be taken into account. All fidget tools must be used correctly in the right situation. It's a tool to help with focus -- it’s not a toy, said Nancy Hammill in an article for Understood.org. Hammill is a learning therapist, literacy specialist, and a classroom teacher.
For parents considering a fidget tool for their child, make you sure you have clear rules set up, explained Hammill. Here are some of hers:
“You can only use a fidget to help with focus and attention or to calm down. Otherwise, it will be taken away.”
“Don’t use a fidget if it distracts others or interferes with the work others are doing. If the fidget does distract others or interfere with their work, use a different fidget or strategy.”
And remember, fidget spinners aren’t the only option. Consult your child’s doctor for recommendations.
“Experiment to find what works best for your child. But I recommend that you don’t get a fidget that has a cute face or that looks like a toy. Your child needs to remember that fidgets are tools,” said Hammill.