Fidgets or a fad?

Fidgets or a fad?

By Romy Saunders, Occupational Therapist at Bellavista School

How often do we hear “she is fidgeting in class”; “he struggles to concentrate”; “he/she is disrupting others.” 

Many children, predominantly those with attention deficit disorders (ADHD), have difficulty sitting still, paying attention, and controlling their impulses. This affects the child’s life at home and at school and impacts on their ability to get along with others. Children with ADHD tend to disrupt learning in the classroom both for themselves and for others. They are often seeking additional sensory input to feel alert and organised. The more input they get from their environment, the more organised their minds and body feel. 

The concept of a fidget toy is an age-old concept. Centuries before fidget spinners started trending, Baoding balls were created during the Ming Dynasty in China. The two metal balls, small enough to fit in one hand, could be rotated repeatedly to reduce stress. The constant motion of the smooth balls was said to be soothing and put the user in a meditative mindset.

According to Dr Karlesky, of New York University, fidget toys are reflective of a human need to self-soothe. “We are hard-wired for self-regulation enacted through tangible, tactile sensory experiences,” he says. “These mind-body mechanisms are initiated with specific objects with at least two key qualities: a distinct tactile experience and an ease in repeating that stimulation.” 

The concept of fidget toys is based on the theory whereby some children seek the need to touch and feel things to provide the required amount of sensory input, to calm their nervous system. Fidget toys can be used to provide sensory input in a less distracting way. By having a fidget toy, a child may be able to 

‘filter out’ excess sensory information in their surroundings.  The physiological stimulation that fidgeting provides can bring a child’s attention back to the task at hand, and allow them to focus, thus enhancing their learning opportunities.

Studies have shown that both the right and left hemispheres of the brain are required for learning. Case studies have confirmed that increased focus in a learning setting was achieved in a student who was using a stress ball fidget toy to help stimulate these areas with both movement and sensory input.

What qualities make for a good fidget toy?

  • Safe to use.
  • Relatively cheap so that they can be easily replaced, or multiple fidgets can be placed around the house or classroom.
  • Small enough that it can be easily held in the hand.
  • Quiet, so as not to cause distraction. 
  • Able to be used without distracting others.

It is also important to consider the following:

  • What foundation skills do they have? Do they have the hand strength or motor skills for a specific fidget toy?
  • Does the child have a sensory preference or avoidance? Are there textures, sensations that they may avoid? Remember the fidget toy needs to provide a calming influence.
  • What times of the day are they most fidgety, and when would they benefit most from using a fidget toy?
  • What are the rules around using the fidget toy?

Some everyday items can be extremely effective in maintaining sensory regulation at home and in the classroom. A ‘fidget box’ with a variety of items can be given to the child to choose from each time they feel the need for a fidget toy.

Some examples include:

  • Paperclips
  • Prestik
  • Elastic bands
  • Stress Balls
  • Velcro under a desk
  • A hand sized smooth stone
  • Putty
  • Fidget cubes
  • Fidget Spinners
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Twist and bend straws
  • Fidget pencil toppers
  • Magnetic fidget rings
  • Push pops
  • Squishes
  • Twisty tangled
  • Wacky tracks
  • Monkey noodles stretchable string 

Not all fidget toys will work for each child, so you need to try several to see which one is best for your child.

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