Kids love fid­get spin­ners. But are they just dis­trac­tions?

One teacher says re­search shows they im­prove fo­cus in stu­dents with ADHD

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - ERIN SIL­VER

Melissa Ferry is a big be­liever in the ben­e­fits of al­low­ing stu­dents to use fid­get toys in the class­room.

She points to re­search in­di­cat­ing that play­ing with fid­get toys — lit­tle gad­gets, cubes, put­ties and spin­ners — is ef­fec­tive in im­prov­ing con­cen­tra­tion and fo­cus in stu­dents with ADHD. She also has seven years’ worth of anec­do­tal ev­i­dence that shows how ben­e­fi­cial they can be for some chil­dren.

“If we see stu­dents are un­fo­cused, get­ting up to use the wash­room, sharp­en­ing their pen­cil fre­quently or caus­ing a dis­tur­bance, they might need a sen­sory tool to help them fo­cus,” says Ferry, a spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion teacher at Ga­niard Ele­men­tary School in Mount Pleas­ant, Michi­gan, who also writes for The Friend­ship Cir­cle, a blog geared to­ward the spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion

com­mu­nity. “There are lots of adap­tive learn­ing tools; just like some kids need glasses, oth­ers need fid­gets.”

She main­tains a wide se­lec­tion for her stu­dents to choose from, and she also helps them make stress balls filled with sand, oat­meal or flour.

Ferry points to one case study in­volv­ing a sixth-grade class­room in Ge­or­gia, in which stu­dents who were given stress balls in­creased their av­er­age scores on a writ­ing as­sess­ment from 73 per cent to 83 per cent; those with a med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis of ADHD im­proved their re­sults by 27 per cent.

Her pro-fid­get toy stance is a good thing for her stu­dents, now that the gad­gets are all the rage among kids.

Cathy Siegel, owner of Party Rock, a small party sup­ply store in Toronto, says she began stock­ing the toys in Fe­bru­ary and can’t keep them on her shelves. “It’s crazi­ness,” she said. “This weekend we sold over 200 spin­ners alone.”

While some shop­pers are buy­ing

fid­gets to help man­age ADHD symp­toms, Siegel says most cus­tomers buy them from her store be­cause they don’t want to be the only one with­out the pop­u­lar toy. “Once one kid bought one, ev­ery­one wanted one. It’s a trend,” she says.

They are so pop­u­lar that some teach­ers have banned them in the class­room. Some schools in Manch­ester, Eng­land, made head­lines re­cently when they an­nounced a fid­get toy ban via text mes­sage, en­rag­ing par­ents of spe­cial-needs stu­dents in the process.

“At first I thought it was bril­liant that other kids had them be­cause he wouldn’t have to an­swer any ques­tions or feel awk­ward us­ing it,” one mom told the Manch­ester Evening News, “but now that they’re be­ing banned in schools, it means he will have to lose an aid that is ex­tremely ben­e­fi­cial to him.”

Sev­enth-grade sci­ence teacher Cory Si­card re­cently banned them in his class at Sierra Mid­dle School in Parker, Colorado, and says many of his col­leagues are do­ing the same.

“The need for these spin­ners stemmed from a de­sire to con­trol the symp­toms of ADHD,” Si­card said. “Un­for­tu­nately the spin­ners can also take chil­dren’s at­ten­tion away from what they are see­ing and heari ng. Plus, the spin­ning and move­ment serves as a dis­trac­tion to other stu­dents in the room.” And theft be­came an is­sue. “Now that kids can’t pull them out in class, there’s less in­cen­tive for oth­ers to steal them,” Si­card said. “Out of sight, out of mind, which is how most of the kids feel to­ward them now.”

Si­card says par­ents at his school were un­der­stand­ing. Even stu­dents were sup­port­ive.

“Most kids will pull out a fid­get spin­ner in class and are eas­ily dis­tracted by it, also dis­tract­ing other stu­dents around them,” Jade Mir­a­cle wrote in the school’s stu­den­trun news­pa­per, the Sierra Sum­mit On­line. “Stu­dents can also for­get these items in the class­room if they leave in a rush, putty will most likely end up on a floor, or stuck to a com­puter, fid­get cubes or spin­ners can be for­got­ten un­der or on desks then found and taken by another stu­dent.” De­spite such sup­port, out­right bans on fid­gets con­cern ex­perts such as Claire Hef­fron. A pe­di­atric oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist in Cleve­land, Hef­fron says the whole dis­cus­sion needs to be re­framed.

“These lit­tle gad­gets should be called fid­get tools, not toys, and they can be part of a suc­cess­ful strat­egy for man­ag­ing fid­gety be­hav­iour if they are in­tro­duced as a nor­mal part of the class­room cul­ture,” she says.

Hef­fron says there need to be rules about when and how fid­gets can be used if they are to be part of an ef­fec­tive learn­ing strat­egy, rather than a dis­trac­tion. Fid­gets should also be part of a much larger dis­cus­sion, she says, about man­ag­ing be­hav­iour in class­rooms and what the school day looks like for chil­dren.

“Kids spend a lot of time sit­ting in class, and re­cesses are shorter than ever at 15 or 20 min­utes. Devel­op­men­tally this doesn’t even come close to the amount of move­ment kids need in a day,” says Hef­fron, coau­thor of the child-de­vel­op­ment blog The In­spired Tree­house and au­thor of the book “Sen­sory Pro­cess­ing 101.”

Hef­fron says stu­dents also are feel­ing in­creased pres­sure over stan­dard­ized test­ing which, com­bined with the de­creased move­ment, re­sults in an over­flow of prob­lem be­hav­iour in school. “We need to come up with strate­gies to meet it,” she says. “Fid­get tools are a pro­found piece of the dis­cus­sion, but they are just the tip of the ice­berg.”

Julie Sch­weitzer, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at the MIND In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis, has been study­ing ADHD for 25 years. Her 2015 study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Child Neu­ropsy­chol­ogy, mea­sured the im­pact of fid­get­ing on cog­ni­tion among a group of chil­dren ages 10 to 17.

Her work re­vealed that stu­dents with ADHD per­formed bet­ter on a com­put­er­ized at­ten­tion test the more in­tensely they fid­geted. Mean­while, typ­i­cal chil­dren did not im­prove their test score with fid­get­ing. While her test re­sults were in­ter­est­ing, she can’t en­dorse fid­get toys yet.

She points out that peo­ple have been fid­get­ing for years (think the Ru­bik’s Cube) and that chew­ing gum or tap­ping your foot might be less dis­rup­tive but just as ef­fec­tive in sat­is­fy­ing a need to fid­get.

“We need to study them to find if they make a dif­fer­ence and for whom,” Sch­weitzer says.

In the mean­time, ex­perts say fid­gets can be suc­cess­fully in­cor­po­rated in class­rooms — with rules to min­i­mize dis­rup­tions to learn­ing.

Fid­get spin­ners are a toy sen­sa­tion, but some schools say they’re a dis­trac­tion.


Spin­ners im­prove kids’ con­cen­tra­tion, some teach­ers say. Oth­ers dis­agree.

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