Self-regulation and occupational therapy devices are often used within academic settings to help students remain calm and focused. Recently, the market has seen the mass introduction of a new toy, the fidget spinner, often advertised as a self-regulation aid, with tens of millions being sold in the US in the past few months alone. As with other aids, fidget spinners are purported to decrease stress and help children to focus where required; however, these claims have limited supporting evidence.
This review highlighted the limited amount of research that has been completed regarding the use and role of fidget spinners in academic settings, looking at their potential benefits and hazards to help inform paediatricians considering their use.
Research has reported that children with ADHD have a greater capacity for maintaining attention if able to move in their seats rather than sitting still compared with children without ADHD, in whom this difference has not been noted. Similarly, it has been shown that stress ball use in children resulted in fewer distractions and a self-reported improvement in the classroom.
Investigation into the neural correlates of movement/fidgeting and attention have found that even minor physical activity (e.g. hand fidgeting) prompts release of dopamine and noradrenaline, increasing attention and focus. It has also been hypothesised that improved performance from fidgeting may stem from stimulation of the primary motor cortex and somatosensory cortex of the brain, which integrate tactile information from the hands.
It has been noted that these benefits may also extend beyond aiding concentration to facilitation of social interaction between children or stress relief during medical procedures. Anecdotal support for these benefits also suggests that fidget spinners may aid improvement in hand-eye coordination and balancing skills, increase creativity, reduce cognitive fatigue and decrease childhood electronic use, nail-biting, nail-picking and other habits.
Conversely, many physicians and educators feel that fidget spinners may ultimately cause an overall reduction in attention levels in the classroom, in children with and without ADHD. Some educators claim that fidget spinners are a significant distraction in the academic setting, often being used solely as a form of entertainment and not as a therapy device. Fidget spinners also have the potential to cause conflict between students if their use is only allowed by the limited group of children who may benefit.
Taking safety into consideration, it has also been found that the toys are often packaged without warning labels or parental advisory, and can pose a risk of harm from overuse or as a choking hazard for young children.
The authors concluded that since the actual benefits of fidget spinner use have not yet been established, their potential to cause extra distraction may outweigh the suggested advantages of aiding overall levels of attention and focus in the academic setting. The authors also felt it critical that paediatricians advise parents about the potential of fidget spinners as a choking and/or injury hazard for children.
While fidget spinners might not have evidence of benefits, other self-regulatory devices have been shown to have therapeutic advantages in schools, and therefore parents should consult with their child’s school to implement an individualised treatment strategy.
Read more about fidget spinners and their use in the academic setting here
Schecter RA, Shah J, Fruitman K, et al. Fidget spinners: purported benefits, adverse effects and accepted alternatives. Curr Opin Pediatr 2017; 29: 616-618.