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Are Fidget Spinners Good For Children?

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

What are fidget spinners?

Fidget spinners are small, flat, ball bearing devices that the user can rotate between his fingers. Fidget spinners are meant to be a therapy tool, or a stress relieving tool, similar to therapy dough, a sensory bracelet or a stress ball; meant for providing sensory and movement input.

Why and how are they used for therapy?

Fidget spinners are used to help individuals to manage stress or anxiety, or to improve focus. However, this is subjective and varies among individuals. It provides tactile and visual stimulation briefly, without the child having to get off the seat in a classroom setting. As the attention of a child with ADHD starts to drift, the small movement may help him/ her to regain attention.

Have you prescribed the use of fidget spinners before? If yes, how effective do you rate them? If no, why?

Personally, I have not prescribed them before as it can potentially be misused (as a toy) and be more distracting for the child (and peers) rather than providing the targeted sensory stimulation. The other children (in class) are likely to be looking at the fidget spinner rather than focusing on what is being taught.

There are other tools that can serve similar purposes and are less distracting.

Gross motor movements are also important for stimulating the frontal and prefrontal cortex, the brain areas responsible for sustaining attention. This can be achieved by standing, walking, stretching and carrying out simple tasks such as distributing a stack of books.

In what circumstance would you prescribe the use of fidget spinners?

I would prescribe the fidget spinners for students with attention or sensory processing challenges, to help them focus or receive sensory input. It is used briefly rather than at length which may potentially lead to misuse. I would also use the fidget spinner as part of a broader range of strategies and tools to address the child’s sensory challenges.

One example whereby it is beneficial to use the fidget spinner, is for a child who bites his nails when he is stressed. The fidget spinner acts as a therapy tool to replace the biting of nails.

For children without ADHD, Autism or anxiety issues, what are the effects of them playing with fidget spinners?

Fidget spinner can be visually distracting and easily misused as a toy. It can potentially lead to social interaction issues. For example, comparing who has the “best” spinner may lead to disagreements and fights between children. Ownership to a fidget spinner may also escalate to become a “must-have” and “trend”. Parents may then feel obligated to purchase one.

What advice do you have for parents whose children are addicted to the fidget spinner?

I would advise parents to set ground rules and practice mindfulness in using the fidget spinner. These rules can be discussed together with the child.

For a start, consider if the child really needs a fidget spinner. This also means to consider the type of sensory stimulation the child requires (e.g. vestibular, proprioception). The sensory need will guide the type of therapy tool or movement that the child requires.

Secondly, consider if the fidget spinner is the “best” solution or whether there are alternatives. For example, jumping on the trampoline briefly before going back to work; using the therapy dough or stress ball.

Thirdly, use the fidget spinner with the aim of calming down or for readjusting focus, rather than as a toy. The child should not be using it to compete with peers to see whose spinner can spin for the longest.

Fourthly, if the fidget spinner is distracting self or others, it should be taken away and replaced with another strategy or therapy tool.

Article contributed by Samantha Tang, Consultant Psychologist, MindChamps Allied Care.

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