When Fidgets Become Trendy

The fidget spinner craze!  Have you heard of it?   A new “fidget” hit the markets and immediately became the newest sought-after toy among elementary and middle school students.  It’s a small hand held toy that spins on different bearings which each give different sensory feedback.  Though the craze has just recently begun, the design was patented in 1997.

I’m guessing a lot of people haven’t even heard of “fidgets” until just recently.  Fidgets have been a part of my life since my boys first begun their public educations due to their varying diagnoses.  Fidgets have also been a part of my life due to my career choices and having worked with children with different needs for the past 11 years.

Fidgets are small toys/objects meant to give sensory feedback to children who have difficulty staying still, concentrating, and even to help with anxiety.  Fidgets are supposed to be less noticeable than whatever movement or stim your child is craving.  By allowing a child to use a fidget object, it actually lets their brain concentrate more on the important information (for example, listening to a teacher read a story)- instead of either them completely bouncing around in their seat or them using all of their brain power on making themselves be still that they miss the auditory/visual information.

Fidget objects have been around for a long time.  My own son carried around four dice in his pockets for three whole years of elementary school.  Those were his fidget items, he could play with them in his pocket very discreetly, and he was able to concentrate better.  I twirl my ring on my finger or repeatedly click the top of my pen when I need to concentrate.  One year we used a tactile ruler, that had different ridged patterns on it, that stayed on my son’s desktop for him to run his fingers over while listening to lesson plans.  Putty or clay are always a great standby to be able to roll, twist, and stretch while trying to pay attention.

I believe in the power of fidget objects for people that need them.  The kids I often “prescribe” them for are the ones that you never see sitting still, are so anxious they’re chewing on their shirt sleeves every single day, the ones that can’t even sit through a family meal- let alone a lesson plan, the ones that are in actual tears when they get home because they are trying so hard but they just can’t keep focus long enough at school.

Despite fidget objects being around for a long time, fidget spinners are hitting the news this week because they somehow become a giant fad and quickly started getting banned from schools.  They were actually banned at one of the schools I practice at.  I’ve seen some fellow parents outraged that they are being banned because they see them helping their kids.  If I wasn’t working in a school system right now, I think I’d be joining my voices to theirs.  Exclaiming out to the world that you can’t ban an object that helps children learn better.  But I am in a school system right now.  And I see what ten+ fidget spinners in a classroom can do.

Fidget spinners, as they are designed, are not discreet.  Especially in the hands of an elementary or middle school student.  Fidget spinners, as a craze, are even more obnoxious.  Every child has one and if they don’t, they’ll do anything to get yours.  It’s not just the children who NEED a fidget object anymore.  Fidgets are all of a sudden…cool.  Fidget spinners come in every color, I even saw one with Batman on it.  They are collectible.  When a fidget spinner is in the hands of every child, not just the ones that need it, they are no longer being used to help a child concentrate.  They are being spun in the air, on the desks, on the floors….all day long…distracting every. single. person.

Part of me as a Mom, was excited to hear that a fidget item was COOL!  A lot of things our kids need and use on a daily basis are not considered cool.  Sometimes our kids get picked on because of items they need to use to get them through their day.  At first, I thought it was a win.  Special needs kids would have the one-up on their peers.  Then, the more I watched it unfold in a school and saw how they were clearly not being used as fidgets are intended, I realized it was just doing the special needs population a disservice.  School-wide bans make it tricky for children who really need a fidget.  When a fidget becomes THE thing of the moment, it downplays the necessity of these type of items for certain learners.

If your child sincerely needs a fidget object, make sure it’s in their IEP or 504 plan as a needed accommodation.  School-wide bans on trendy fidget objects would not effect your child at that point.  However, teach your child- if they have the cognitive ability- that fidget toys are meant to be discreet.  And though they help them concentrate, they can be a huge distraction to others.

Other options for fidget items to consider for your “toolbox”:

  • small items in your child’s pocket to “juggle” absentmindedly (dice, marbles, coins)
  • a bracelet with beads that can be twirled and moved around
  • clay or putty (I personally love Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty)
  • fidget cubes (I’m afraid these could get “trendy” too but I think definitely less distracting than the spinner)
  • Tangles
  • Stress balls- particularly ones that have different textures inside, you can even make your own!
  • Marble & mesh fidgets (I really love these- just got a bunch for our kids at school)
  • Pencil toppers you can manipulate
  • Let your child design their own using items from around the house, like my amazing friend Nick did with his legos:

Do you or your child have a favorite fidget?  Let me know in the comments!


Heather Nelson

About Heather Nelson

Heather resides in Rockland where she is busy juggling life as a newlywed, a mom to two boys (one of which who has autism), a part time job in direct sales, and a full-time job as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant. She has a love for live music, karaoke, and cheering on the underdogs.