Children across the globe are clamoring for fidget spinners – simple, handheld devices you can spin with your fingers. The devices are marketed as a tool to help children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and other similar disorders focus. But do they really work? One expert weighs in on the gadgets.
Siobhan Smith, a behavior therapist and case manager at the Medical Center of Aurora in Aurora, Colo., says she has found that fidget spinners have helped the children she works with since introducing them a year ago. “It’s really helped to decrease what we call inappropriate behaviors,” says Smith. “[The children with ADHD] are better able to cope when they have the fidget.”
ADHD, currently the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in children, is caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals which affects how a child's brain processes and organizes information and manages impulses. Kids with ADHD often act without thinking, are hyperactive and have trouble focusing. They may understand what's expected of them but have trouble following through because they can't sit still, pay attention or focus on details.
Smith says what generally helps kids with ADHD focus is having them complete small, complex tasks. “Before I got fidgets, what we used to do is play card games to try to focus the kids and reset their thinking,” she said. “We would play Old Maid or Speed and you would be able to get maybe 15 focused minutes [out of the children] after the game was over because the task of actually completing the card game required so much focus.”
Fidget spinners, Smith says, give children something to focus their energy on in the background, in turn enabling them to better focus on the task at hand. “They’re able to focus their energy on this one little toy. And then when you’re actually asking them questions, they’re able to run through their thoughts because that energy isn’t so distracting anymore. I have something to focus that on and now I can think about something else.”
Fidget spinners aren’t the first device of their kind. Smith says her patients have used fidget cubes – small toys with different types of sensory elements on all six sides; tangles – chain link puzzles that snap together quietly; and squishy balls that children can squeeze in their hands or softly bounce.
It’s important to remember that, while these devices can aid children with ADHD by helping them focus, they don’t replace a proper treatment plan. If you think your child might have ADHD, talk with a doctor – they’ll work with you to develop an individualized, long-term plan.