Has tool meant to calm dis­tractible chil­dren be­come a dis­trac­tion it­self?

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - ELISE COPPS Elsie Copps is a pub­lic re­la­tions spe­cial­ist with Hamil­ton Health Sci­ences.

Haven’t heard of fidget spinners yet? Then you’re one of few.

The small toys have soared in pop­u­lar­ity over the past few months. You can find them in con­ve­nience stores, class­rooms and all cor­ners of the In­ter­net. The three­p­ronged gad­gets cen­tre on a ball bear­ing mech­a­nism that al­lows them to whir in cir­cles when spun. Many ven­dors mar­ket them as ther­a­peu­tic — a way to de­ter hy­per­ac­tiv­ity or lessen anx­i­ety.

Lisa White, an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist in the Child and Youth Men­tal Health Pro­gram at Mc­Mas­ter Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, says the con­cept of us­ing hand-held ob­jects to calm and soothe isn’t new, but she has no­ticed a rise in pop­u­lar­ity among this par­tic­u­lar type of tool.

“Fidget tools have al­ways been a pretty pop­u­lar self-reg­u­la­tion or ground­ing strat­egy, es­pe­cially among chil­dren and youth,” White says. “Fidget spinners are a type of fidget tool, and in the last few months, it seems like they’re be­com­ing more widely used among young peo­ple.”

As an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist, White helps chil­dren and youth with men­tal health is­sues find ways to fully en­gage in mean­ing­ful ac­tiv­i­ties, like school or hob­bies. For youth with men­tal health chal­lenges, such as anx­i­ety or at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der, this process can in­volve over­com­ing thoughts that over­whelm their abil­ity to con­cen­trate.

When ex­pe­ri­enc­ing anx­i­ety, some­one may be­come more rest­less or fid­gety. This can get in the way of daily func­tion­ing, and even lead them to avoid sit­u­a­tions or tasks that make them feel most anx­ious. By chan­nelling this rest­less­ness into a fo­cused ac­tiv­ity, like us­ing a fidget tool, they may be soothed at least to the point that they are able to fo­cus on the task at hand.

“Fidget tools in gen­eral are meant to sup­port users in their ef­forts to self-soothe and self-reg­u­late,” White says. “Ma­nip­u­lat­ing a tool dis­cretely in their hands can be sooth­ing, and help them re­main fo­cused and en­gaged in an ac­tiv­ity.”

Still, not every­one is a fan of fidget spinners. Some schools have gone as far as to ban them, say­ing they’re a dis­trac­tion in the class­room. White says, if used im­prop­erly, they can be a neg­a­tive in­flu­ence.

“If a user be­comes en­grossed in the fidget tool ac­tiv­ity to the point that they’re un­able to con­cen­trate on the task at hand, it can be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive for the user, and even dis­tract­ing to those around them.”

White says sim­ple so­lu­tions, like an elas­tic band around your wrist, a stress ball or small key chains, may be just as ef­fec­tive tools as fidget spinners.

“Use so­lu­tions that work for what you need to do, in­stead of opt­ing for the lat­est trends,” she sug­gests. “It’s best to choose a fidget tool that is ef­fec­tive as well as dis­crete and not overly dis­tract­ing.”

She rec­om­mends con­sult­ing with an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist to de­ter­mine what kind of stim­u­la­tion or strat­egy is needed, and whether a fidget tool is the right so­lu­tion.


Fidget spinners have be­come the lat­est sen­sa­tion and some schools have banned them be­cause they’ve be­come a dis­trac­tion.

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