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Self-Regulation and Fidgets: What is Effective?

By: Morgan Grant, CEI Intern

In the spring of 2017, fidget spinners unexpectedly became a very popular toy among children and adolescence. It was not before long students were bringing their fidget spinners to school, playing with these devices in class and during recess. Many educators became frustrated as they found fidget spinners to be a nuisance as children focused more on the toy than on academics. In response, some schools have decided to ban fidget spinners claiming that they are ineffective and are frequently misused despite being marketed to students with learning disorders.

But are fidget spinners effective? And if so how? What are alternatives to these toys?

Effectiveness. Although many individuals report that fidget spinners help them to destress and regain focus, there is currently a lack of clinical research supporting these claims. One of the reasons fidget spinners are mistakenly referred to as effective clinical devices is because recent research has found that movement is beneficial for many individuals with learning and behavioral disorders such as autism and ADHD. Toys that aid in self-regulation and allow for the individual to get out restlessness and help them pay attention are called fidget toys (Calfas, 2017; Davis, 2017; Pappas, 2017).

Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist and senior director of the ADHD and Behavioral Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute, states that ‘the distinction between those interventions and fidget spinners is that those interventions allow the child to move, but this particular intervention isn’t necessarily letting the child get their wiggles out, but rather play with a toy” (Calfas, 2017).

While it has not been ruled out that the toys may provide perceived benefits for some people, many experts seem to be convinced that fidget spinners are not all what they claim to be.

Mark Rapport, a clinical psychologist at the University of Central Florida who studies the relationship between movement and attention in those with ADHD, says, “Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD” (Pappas, 2017).

Experts have also mentioned that while certain approved toys can help ease anxiety and hyperactivity, they are by no means a cure.

Dr. Anderson mentions, ”…if something appears like it’s an easy fix for mental health difficulties, it’s probably too good to be true’ (Calfas, 2017).

School’s Response and Alternatives. Due to classroom distraction and a lack of clinical backing, many schools have banned fidget spinners stating that they do not help to improve learning.

Kate Ellison, the principal at Washington Elementary School in Evanston, Illinois, explains why they placed the ban. She says, “Frankly, we’ve found the fidgets were having the opposite effect of what they advertise,” “Kids are trading them or spinning them instead of writing” (Thayer, 2017).

Elizabeth Maughan, a music teacher, says, “They do make a noise. When you have 10 or 15 in a room, it’s just this whirring and it’s an irresistible siren call for everyone else to turn around and look at whoever has it out, and completely distracting” (Davis, 2017)

Many schools with fidget spinners bans have allowed students with a diagnosable disorder to use them with the approval of their teacher. However, some teachers have mentioned that they have been utilizing quieter and less disruptive alternatives for kids who feel the need to fidget.

Stephen Poss, an occupational therapist in Montgomery County, MD, explains the difference between fidget spinners and other fidget objects: ‘Fidget objects are meant to be felt, so that visual attention can be focused on the teacher,’ said Poss. ‘Spinner toys are visually distracting, and I think that’s their major drawback’ (Augenstein, 2017).

Some alternatives to fidget spinners such as:

  1. Other fidget toys such as fidget cubes

  2. Stress balls

  3. Velvet cloth

  4. Sponge

  5. Working clay

  6. Velcro

  7. Sand paper

  8. Music

  9. Designated areas for movement

(Mentoring Minds, 2017)

The Appeal. But what made fidget spinners so popular? It is not really known why these toys were in high-demand, especially since it wasn’t predicted that they would be. A few factors might be able to explain why the toys have caught the public’s eye:

  1. Unlike many high-tech and complex toys, fidget spinners are easy to use as they spin with minimal effort.

  2. Fidget spinners are also sold for around $4-10 (depending on brand and specific features) making it an affordable toy for many children and their families.

  3. Like yo-yo’s and other toys, they can be fun to use

  4. Despite the lack of scientific evidence, fidget spinners are still marketed to help relieve anxiety in children who have ADHD, autism and other learning or developmental disorders.

The Future of Fidget Spinners. At the moment the fidget spinner hype has died tremendously as sales have rapidly decreased. With the fidget spinner ban in place at many schools, children turned to other forms of entertainment and conversations about the toy fizzled out. Like with any trend that becomes popular overnight, there comes a point when the demand suddenly slows down and eventually becomes irrelevant.  After all, don’t you remember the rise and fall of sillybandz and hoverboards?


Mentoring Minds. (2017). 18 alternatives to fidget spinners.

Thayer, K. (2017). Schools ban fidget toys as classroom distraction. Chicago Tribune.


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