Hand holding fidget spinner

Fidget spinners: Helpful or harmful?

Haven’t heard of fidget spinners yet? Then you’re one of few.

The small toys have soared in popularity over the past few months. You can find them in convenience stores, class rooms and all corners of the internet. The three pronged gadgets centre on a ball bearing mechanism, that allows them to whir in circles when spun. Many vendors market them as therapeutic—a way to deter hyperactivity or anxiety.

Lisa White, an occupational therapist in the Child & Youth Mental Health Program at McMaster Children’s Hospital, says the concept isn’t new, but she has noticed a rise in popularity among this particular type.

“Manipulating a tool discretely in their hands can be soothing.”

“Fidget tools have always been a pretty popular self-regulation or grounding strategy, especially amongst children and youth,” White says. “Fidget spinners are a type of fidget tool, and in the last few months, it seems like they’re becoming more widely used among young people.”

As an occupational therapist, White helps patients find ways to fully engage in meaningful activities, like school or hobbies. For youth with mental health challenges, like anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, this process can involve overcoming thoughts that overwhelm their ability to concentrate.

When experiencing anxiety, someone may become more restless or fidgety. This can get in the way of daily functioning, and even lead them to avoid situations or tasks that make them feel most anxious. By channelling this restlessness into a focused activity like using a fidget tool, they may be soothed at least to the point that they are able to focus on the task at hand.

“Fidget tools in general are meant to support users in their efforts to self-soothe and self-regulate,” White says. “Manipulating a tool discretely in their hands can be soothing, and help them remain focused and engaged in an activity.”

“Use solutions that work for what you need to do, instead of opting for the latest trends.”

Not everyone is a fan of fidget spinners. Some schools have gone as far as to ban them, saying they’re a distraction in the classroom. White says, if used improperly, they can be a negative influence.

“If a user becomes engrossed in the fidget tool activity to the point that they’re unable to concentrate on the task at hand, it can be counterproductive for the user, and even distracting to those around them.”

White says simple solutions, like an elastic band around your wrist, may be just as effective as fidget spinners.

“Use solutions that work for what you need to do, instead of opting for the latest trends,” she suggests. “It’s best to choose a fidget tool that is effective as well as discrete and not overly distracting.”

She recommends consulting with an occupational therapist to determine what kind of stimulation or strategy is needed, and whether a fidget tool is the right solution.

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