Are fidget spinners ruining classrooms everywhere? That's what the articles and Facebook memes would have you believe.
In case you haven't heard yet, fidget spinners are the new craze that is driving teachers across the country bananas. By now, many of us have probably heard from our teacher friends or have seen comments and memes on Facebook about how these toys are distracting and making teachers pull their hair out. You can't see a post about them without someone commenting about how everyone has them and they are a huge distraction.
This: everyone has them. Let's talk about that for a minute, shall we?
Fidgets spinners as a toy
The other day I wrote a post about types of fidgets that have helped my son who has ADHD. My son is now a senior in high school and has been using a fidget of some kind since he was in about the third grade. For him, it is not a toy but a tool. A tool that helps him concentrate and relieve stress.
Since I wrote that post, I am now seeing memes, articles, and comments about fidget spinners everywhere I look. Oh, sure, I bet they're fun to play with for the kid who doesn't actually need it. For them, it's a toy. Something that they will likely lose interest in within a few weeks. Fads are nothing new, so what's the big deal?
Even when we were kids there was always something that we brought to class to play with. Do paper footballs, Rubik's Cubes, paper fortune tellers, and Pokemon cards ring a bell? I'm not trying to say that kids they can't have fun by any means and I'm certainly not trying to say that I think only kids with fidgeting disorders should be allowed to have fidget spinners. Not at all! But I would be lying if I said that I don't have some concerns about the potential consequences of this particular fad. My concern mostly lies in the name of the thing itself: fidget spinners.
I hope I'm wrong, but when this fad has inevitably run its course in a few weeks or months, will the damage already be done for the kids who actually need a fidget?
Fidgets and the ADHD child
Here is my (potential) problem with everyone having fidget spinners. Disorders like ADHD, SPD, autism, anxiety, and others that I can't think of now have become more understood in recent years. Because of this, teachers have been more accepting of kids having a fidget in the classroom if they need one. My son has it written in his 504 Plan that he's allowed to have one in class, even though his teachers have always been great about it even before it became part of his 504.
They can be an amazing tool, but are you telling me that half the class needs a fidget to play with? I doubt it. So now with all of the kids playing with them in class and causing a distraction, it becomes an annoyance for the teacher and other kids in the class. I get it. I really do. If I was a teacher, I'm sure that it would make me nuts to have these things spinning all over the place. Now we have annoyed teachers and some may have even banned them from the classroom.
But where does that leave the kids who need some kind of fidget to help them concentrate or relieve stress? Will this fad have a negative impact on them? Will we start to see kids being denied a fidget who need one but don't have an official accommodation plan? Or having schools say what a child can and can't use as a fidget? Since they are such an individual thing, I hope not.
Benefits of a fidget tool
You may notice that I don't refer to them as fidget toys. When used appropriately, they are not toys. They are a tool. But how can something that looks like and is sometimes used as a toy be a tool for some?
If you watch the child (or adult) with ADHD and other sensory disorders, you will notice that many of them are doing things with their hands. They may pick something up and manipulate it in their hands, pick the skin on their hands, drum their fingers, bite their nails, twist their hair, or tap things against a hard surface. If given an object specifically meant for fidgeting, they then channel their need for tactile stimulation in a more appropriate way.
The brain is a funny thing so I can't tell you why the use of a fidget helps with concentration and anxiety. I've read that studies show fidgeting increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, similar to the way ADHD medications do. Regardless of how or why, for those who are wired a little differently, it really does help.
That's why allowing these kids to have access to fidget tools in the classroom is so important. Kids who have an accommodation to use a fidget are usually using it in the right way. They're not putting a spinner on their nose or encouraging their neighbor to watch what they're doing. For the most part, they remain out of view of other students and teachers but are available to help them concentrate on reading or maintaining focus on the teacher's verbal lessons.
The bottom line
I guess I don't really have the answer and eventually this issue will sort itself out. All I can say is this: if you have a child with a fidget spinner who doesn't need one to concentrate, please talk to them. Make sure they know that while it's fun to play with, not to let it become a distraction. Be respectful of the classroom, the teacher, and the other kids.
Because, after all, abuse is what leads to us not being able to have nice things.