Fidget Spinners

What exactly is a "Fidget Spinner"?

They are everywhere! If you see a kid, you will more than likely see, if not hear, the whirling buzz of a fidget spinner. A fidget spinner is a simple toy consisting of a bearing in the center with two or three prongs (sometimes more). To operate, a person holds the center of the fidget spinner and rotates the prongs.

You can get fidget spinners made of anything from cheap plastic to stainless steel. Some make noise, some vibrate, and some light up but their basic function is to spin.

Attention Tools or Distraction Toys?

Catherine Hettinger created the toy to distract young children and discourage mischievous behavior. This device has been on the market since 1993 but only recently became popular. Or unpopular, depending on your point of view.

The spinners are being marketed as low-cost stress relieving toys. While not proven, the movement and sound generated by fidget spinners may help kids to focus. Parents and teachers of kids with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) love them. Or at least some do. Others don't see any real benefit and find them distracting in the classroom.

If fidget spinners were only used to help deal with ADHD, anxiety, or stress, we would not even be talking about them. There might still be debates about their effectiveness but nothing like we see now. The problem is, it seems like everyone has one, or six, or more as collectibles or toys. They seem to be everywhere.

What is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) makes it difficult to control impulsive behaviors. People with ADHD find it hard to focus, appear restless and tend to move constantly. While often associated with children, ADHD also affects adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 6.4 million children (between the ages of 4 and 17) have been diagnosed since 2011.

People with ADHD often make careless mistakes and are inattentive. They distract easily and have trouble completing tasks, often avoiding tasks requiring concentration.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists several signs of hyperactivity that at first glance may be relieved by using a fidget spinner :

  • Fidgeting and squirming while seated
  • Getting up or moving around when expected to remain seated
  • Being constantly in motion or “on the go”

Treatments for ADHD include medications (stimulants, non-stimulants, antidepressants) and therapy. Fidget spinners may act as a form of therapy, helping people with ADHD cope with daily challenges.

A University of Mississippi Medical Center study shows the benefits of hyperactive movements. The movements help with focus and improve the learning ability of children with ADHD. The author, Dustin Sarver, MD. is a pediatrics professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He also serves as a researcher at the Center for the Advancement of Youth.

“Conventional teaching and treatment methods demand that ADHD children remain still, and the ability to focus on the lesson is lost in the child’s struggle to focus on not squirming or fidgeting,” says Dr. Sarver. “For the majority of kids with ADHD, the more they moved, the better their working memory performance.” Being allowed to move increases an ADHD child’s cognitive arousal and alertness.

Pilar Trelles, MD, is a psychiatrist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She believes fidget spinners may be beneficial to patients dealing with anxiety.

Dr. Trelles explains, “when someone is hypersensitive to the environment they might bite their nails, pull out their cuticles, or pinch their skin.” Fidget spinners offer a less harmful way to exert nervous energy.

A fidget spinner can be categorized as a rapid stress management technique (RSMT) according to Dr. Trelles. For people with ADHD and anxiety, fidget spinners are best used as a supplement to treatment.

“Psychotherapy and medications work well, especially with adults,” states Dr. Trelles. “Devices should be used in conjunction with these things because only using a toy to cure your anxiety isn’t going to get you where you need to be.”

ADHD Infographic from CDC
Distracted Student

Should fidget spinners be allowed in schools (or the workplace)?

A slow start at first, fidget spinners began trickling in. It wasn't long until it seemed that everyone had one and schools started banning them. But should they?

You will find passionate arguments on both sides. Teachers, parents, administrators, and even physicians have taken sides. But the issue doesn't lend itself to an absolute yes or no decision.

To the teacher that is already overwhelmed, these "toys" are a nightmare. They make noise, act as visual distractions, and on occasion fly across the room in pieces. You can confiscate them but more appear the next day to take their place.

In classrooms dedicated to supporting those with ADHD, teachers may welcome them. They may even incorporate them into lesson plans. It is important that they be used correctly, with the fidget not becoming the primary focus.

Another issue arises when classrooms have a small number of ADHD students. Granting those students special permission may cause issues with the other students. They can become alienated, or treated poorly due to special treatment. While it may focus those using them, it has the potential to distract those that are not. The hum of a spinner can be very irritating for some when trying to concentrate.

You would think the workplace would be less of an issue but the same general idea applies. It's a trade off - how much will it help vs. how distracting it will be. If you have an office, what's the harm (unless you play all day). If you are in a room with a bunch of other people, it is harder to justify.

Fidget Spinner

Questionable Marketing Practices?

Many retailers are promoting fidget spinners as tools to help people focus. Some claim to help people who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorders and ADHD.

Scott Kollins, a clinical psychologist and professor at Duke University states “there’s no evidence to support that claim.” There is not enough research on the subject to prove or disprove spinners as effective.

"I know there are lots of similar toys, just like there's lots of other games and products marketed toward individuals who have ADHD, and there's basically no scientific evidence that those things work across the board."

"If their description says specifically that this can help with ADHD, they're basically making false claims because these have not been evaluated in proper research," states Kollins.

"It's important for parents and teachers who work with kids who have ADHD to know that there are very well studied and documented treatments that work, and that they're out there, so there's not really quick and easy fixes like buying a toy," exclaims Kollins. "It's important that people don't get into trying these fads when we do have treatments that can help these kids."

In a 2015 study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, lead author, Mark Rapport, states "Fidget spinners may prove to be more of a distraction than a help because the toy moves rather than the child. It is the child's movement that helps them maintain the necessary level of arousal needed to complete cognitively demanding tasks."

Is the marketing questionable and/or inappropriate? Yes, and no.

Many spinners are only marketed as toys. They may highlight a potential to help with attention disorders. But they do not imply a cure or guarantee results.

Others focus on the perceived medical aspects. Either to make more sales or because they believe there are benefits to using the spinners.

Some cross the line, make outlandish claims and take advantage of those looking for help.

Is there a proven benefit? Is there a potential benefit? It depends on who you ask.

Without clear evidence on one side or the other it is difficult to pass judgement. Turn on the television or browse the internet and you will be bombard with ads making claims. It is probable that we could find fault in most, if not all.

Surely, we don't want fidget spinners regulated like it is for lawyers or pharmaceuticals. I can see the advertisements now, listing the most common side affects.

"This spinner may be a chocking hazard, may poke you and/or others in the eye, may be distracting to yourself and/or others, may cause bad grades and frequent detention, may cause clogs if flushed down the toilet...

The quality of attention and focus produced by this spinner is no greater or less than the quality of focus produced by any other spinner..."

A Time & A Place for Fidget Spinners

Each situation is different. Those in authority, whether teachers, parents, administrators, employers will have to make decisions.

If those in charge consider fidget spinners a toy then the time and place may have restrictions. Allowed in school but only on breaks or in recess, or not allowed at all. The age and maturity of the students should also factor in.

Even if those in charge consider fidget spinners as tools, they may need restrictions. For example, allowed only for students with ADHD, or during certain lessons.

In the end, fidget spinners may be nothing more than a passing fad. Other fidget toys, such as the Rubix Cube, snap bracelets, Tamaogachis, and even mechanical pencils were all popular at one time. By this time next year there will be a new craze.

Where do you stand on fidget spinners?

If nothing else, fidget spinners have captured our attention. New articles have been popping up daily on major news outlets and comments abound. There must not be much going on in the world for this to become such a hot topic. I imagine the major political parties will come out with their stance on fidget spinners any day now.

All kidding aside, there are many differing opinions out there. Are fidget spinners tools, toys, or both? If tools, how effective are they? Should we ban them from school or work?

We encourage you to take our survey and cast your vote. Be sure to check back and see how others have responded.

Cahn L. Those Trendy Fidget Spinners Are Giving Some Kids (and Their Teachers) the Fidgets. Accessed June 9, 2017.

Researcher: Hyperactive movements help ADHD children learn. Accessed June 9, 2017.

Naftulin J. Can Fidget Spinners Really Help Anxiety and ADHD? An Expert Weighs In. Published May 8, 2017. Accessed June 9, 2017.

How many children have ADHD? Accessed June 9, 2017

Davis W. Whirring, Purring Fidget Spinners Provide Entertainment, Not ADHD Help. Published May 14, 2017. Accessed June 9, 2017.

Schneider R. Fidget Spinner Manufacturers Are Marketing Their Toys as a Treatment for ADHD, Autism, and Anxiety. Published May 2, 2017. Accessed June 9, 2017.

Snyder C. A psychologist debunks the claim that fidget spinners help kids focus. Published May 19, 2017. Accessed June 9, 2017.

Susan Donaldson James. Keep Fidgeting! Movement Helps Improve Focus in Kids With ADHD. Published June 11, 2015. Accessed June 12, 2017.

Victoria Prooday. Fidget Spinners: Is It Really What Your Child Needs? Published May 1, 2017. Accessed June 12, 2017.

National Institute of Mental Health. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Basics.  Accessed June 13, 2017.

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