Wellness Matters

Fidget Spinners: a Benefit or Distraction?

May 17, 2017

Are Fidget Spinners a Benefit or Distraction
A fidget spinner
You may have seen them on the internet or spotted a child playing with one. They are called fidget spinners, and they are the newest craze. These pocket-size devices are held between two fingers and spun at high speed. They are being marketed as a rapid stress management technique (RSMT), an aid to help alleviate the symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, stress, higher-than-average energy levels and extreme sensitivity to an environment.

Some children struggle to sit still or pay attention because they are seeking sensory input by moving, touching or grabbing things. The idea of a fidget spinner is to help the child improve their concentration by filtering out the extra sensory information that is distracting them.

The spinners, along with stress balls, spinner rings and Chinese chiming balls, are offered as a healthy alternative to biting fingernails, picking at cuticles or chewing on the lip. However, many experts, from psychologists to classroom teachers, see them as a distraction because they are being used by children who do not need them or being used inappropriately.

Fortunately, there are other RSMTs available for the classroom that aren’t as distracting to others. These include:
  1. Spreading a thin layer of glue on the hands to be peeled off.
  2. Holding a piece of hook and latch fabric to rub for a soothing effect.
  3. Wrapping a resistance band around the legs of a chair. (This allows for movement/fidgeting, but leaves hands free and allows the individual to focus.)
  4. Using gross motor skills, such as wall push-ups or stretching.
  5. Carrying something a bit heavy – like a stack of books or box of supplies – from one room to another.
  6. Using a stand-up desk or a wiggle cushion.

There are RSMTs that incorporate the senses; the trick is finding the one that works for you and your child. These include:
  • Looking at a favorite photo, surrounding yourself with bright colors, or closing your eyes and picturing a place that is peaceful.
  • Wearing soft clothing, rubbing a pet or wrapping up in a warm blanket
  • Chewing a piece of gum, sipping hot beverage, or eating a healthy crunchy snack.
  • Going for a walk, standing and stretching, or using a device such a stress ball.
  • Listening to your favorite music or nature sounds, such as running water or wind chimes, or humming a tune to yourself.

If rapid stress management techniques are necessary for your child to get through their day and you are concerned about a possible mental health issue, you should consult a care provider to discuss additional treatments.

About the Author

Jenna Johnson, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist at Cone Health Pediatric Rehabilitation


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