Fidget spinners are marketed as calming devices for stressful situations and as concentration tools for adults as well as children. Some people say they are helpful to children with ADHD, but others feel they’re nothing but a distraction.
If you somehow haven’t seen a fidget spinner despite its soaring popularity, they come in a variety of styles but serve the same purpose: The user can rotate them with a centrally located spinner. While some users enjoy just spinning it in their hand, others have used the spinners to do more complex tricks, including spinning them on their nose or elbow. This is, in part, where the distractions have come in.
Teachers have found that fidget spinners distract not only the children who bring them to school, but other children in the classroom who don’t have the devices. That’s led a number of school districts across the country to ban fidget spinners, and other schools to set policies around them.
“Fidget spinners are different than other traditional, handheld fidgets because they offer more visual stimulation and potential distraction,” says Dr. Lisa Nowinski, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and the director of clinical psychology services at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Lurie Center for Autism.
Fidgeting and ADHD
“There is some evidence that allowing students with ADHD to fidget can minimally help their concentration,” says Dr. Steven Evans, a professor of psychology and co-director of the Center for Intervention Research in Schools at Ohio University. “In fact, fidgeting can minimally help all of us focus. Helpful fidgeting is usually tapping, swinging your foot and other small behaviors. For children with ADHD, we often encourage teachers to allow this behavior in class if it is not disrupting others.”
Fidget spinners, Evans says, go beyond the definition of helpful fidgeting.
“The problem with fidget spinners is that they are going to be very distracting to many children with and without ADHD. The likelihood that they will distract and potentially disrupt exceeds any potential value a student may experience by using them,” he says. “It is very unlikely that a student with ADHD will noticeably improve their concentration, behavior and productivity due to a fidget spinner.”
“The best available approaches for helping students attend in classes are behavior-management approaches, training interventions and medication,” says Evans. “Classroom interventions like a daily report card or point system can provide a great deal of benefit to students with ADHD if they are implemented correctly and consistently.”
With no definitive scientific evidence that fidget spinners help children with ADHD, it may be too early to tell if they belong in the classroom.
“Policies around the use of fidget spinners should not be one-size-fits-all,” says Nowinski. “It can be difficult to manage the various needs of all students in the classroom. Finding a solution that supports the attention and motor regulation of children with ADHD without disrupting the classroom is the ultimate goal.”