children playing with fidget spinners

The Wiggle Room: Fidget Spinners

What’s behind the popular classroom craze?

Pediatric occupational therapists (OTs) are constantly recommending various fidget tools for patients with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. It has taken years for OTs to convince teachers to allow children with these diagnoses to have fidgets accessible in the classroom to help improve attention and decrease distractible, inappropriate behaviors. These fidgets include things such as paper clips, rubber bands, pencil toppers or grippers, mini koosh balls, small nuts and bolts, silly putty and erasers.

When I first saw the “fidget spinner” at one of my schools last year, I was thrilled but also intrigued because it wasn’t one of my occupational therapy patients using it. I asked the child about it and immediately started telling my patients’ parents about this cool, new, fidget find! Little did I know about the craze that was quickly approaching. 

Unfortunately, fidgets – spinners included – are not just a “one size fits all” tool. Fidgets can be extremely beneficial for kids with attentional difficulties when used properly. But not every child needs one – some kids want a spinner because it is the “cool” thing to have. As the fidget spinner craze exploded, teachers wondered how to handle inappropriate use, as the spinners were becoming a nuisance. Schools even started banning them from the classroom. Sadly, this started to negatively affect patients who truly need them.

Not everyone needs a spinner
To assist teachers in controlling the fidget spinner problem, occupational therapists can work with them to help identify the children who would therapeutically benefit from fidgets. Classroom rules can be established for when and where fidget spinners can be allowed. The children who did not need a fidget spinner could use it only before and after school, at recess, and during snack breaks.

Although many teachers and parents are less than thrilled about the fidget spinner craze, it leaves a positive impact in the classroom for many children receiving occupational therapy services. These children are starting to no longer feel embarrassed or “different” because they need a fidget, as fidgets are becoming much more widely accepted.      


How do I know if my child needs a fidget?

You’re probably wondering, “What constitutes a therapeutic need?” or “How do I know if my child needs a fidget?” Some children have extreme difficulty paying attention and cannot self-regulate. Self-regulation is the ability to control emotional and physical behaviors, and make appropriate responses to situations and stimuli.

Occupational therapists often recommend various strategies or assistive tools, such as fidgets, to improve a child’s ability to regulate and pay attention. A typical-functioning child or adult can display appropriate behaviors automatically and subconsciously without the aid of any tools. Typical behaviors include biting nails, twirling hair, tapping a pencil, shaking your leg, pacing or shifting body positions. A child who has self-regulation or attentional difficulties will demonstrate more inappropriate and extreme behaviors. He may constantly move around, be in and out of his chair, chew on his shirt, touch and bother peers sitting next to him, or even seek out visual stimulation with his hands or other objects. 

As with any of the fidget tools available, each child will have a personal preference and some fidgets will be more useful than others. Occupational therapists often suggest creating a “tool chest” of various items from which the child can choose. Some will be more effective, some will be favorites, and some will lose novelty and need to be rotated in and out. Be sure to seek help if you feel that your child could benefit from some of these strategies. It could be an appropriate and helpful addition to your child’s life. 

Kimberly Bradley, MS, LOTR, is a pediatric occupational therapist and owns Kim4Kids, LLC, in Metairie. 504.517.5437.

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