Fidget Spinners in School: Unnecessary or Needed?
Dr. Steven M. Koch, a child psychologist at Riley Hospital, talks about whether or not fidget spinners actually serve a therapeutic use for kids with ADHD.
Their appeal may be lost on anyone over 14, but fidget spinners—hard plastic toys shaped like three-pronged amoebas that spin around at the flick of a finger—have become the biggest kid craze of 2017. The spinners, costing between $5 and $10, have been zooming off the shelves in toy stores across the country, and the Internet is full of parents trading stories about their kids having meltdowns when they can’t get their hands on one of the gadgets.
But the interesting thing about these suddenly ubiquitous toys is that parents of kids with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have known about them for years. “Kids with ADHD need constant motion to be able to focus,” says Steven M. Koch, PhD, a child psychologist at the Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, who has witnessed several of his patients spinning their devices during therapy sessions. He explains that a repetitive motion, such as clicking a pen cap or bouncing your feet can help release pent-up energy, allowing your mind to focus better on the teacher or a book. “In the past students have squeezed stress balls, or they would attach a strip of Velcro to the bottom of their desk to rub their hands against.”
But why did this particular tool for managing ADHD hit the mainstream? “Unlike a lot of other fidget toys, this one is very visual,” says Dr. Koch. The toys, which come in a range of colors and patterns, can be fascinating to watch, and kids report that they like feeling the “energy” in their hand when it spins. But the visual appeal is problematic, adds Dr. Koch. “Because they are so interesting to watch, they may take your attention off the teacher and draw it to the toy.” And when every kid in the class is spinning one, it may be impossible for anyone to be able to focus on math or reading.
In fact, to the dismay of many children who have saved up their allowance to buy a fidget spinner, many schools have now banned them in class—a problem for kids who truly need them as a therapeutic tool. “Before bringing one to school, there needs to be a discussion with the teachers to see if it is okay,” advises Dr. Koch. If fidget spinners are taboo, discuss with your child’s therapist and teacher an acceptable method of expending energy, such as cutting down a Styrofoam pool noodle and letting him roll it on the floor with his feet under the desk, or putting a giant rubber band around the legs of the chair so he can bounce his feet on it, suggests Dr. Koch.
But, like the pet rock and mood ring before it, the fidget spinner may have a very brief moment in the sun. “It’s a fun toy, but the appeal right now may just be that all the other kids have one,” says Dr. Koch. “Like all fads, after a week, they may simply lose interest in it.”
-- By Marisa Cohen