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What Are Fidget Spinners? Everything To Know About The Popular Toys

Cherlaine Tabo LittleThings writer Cherlaine Tabo

With the rising popularity of phone apps and video games, it’s refreshing to see school-age children become obsessed with something that doesn’t involve a screen. But if you’re a mom or dad like me, you probably have a lot of questions about these famous fidget spinners.

These toys are the latest craze among kids, and every classroom is currently crawling with them. It is the new must-have gadget of 2016 and 2017, hailed as a go-to toy for ADHD and anxiety sufferers.

But with any new trend, there are also concerns about whether they are suitable for children in a school setting, and whether they are actually helpful. There is also a new concern over the safety of fidget spinners after a Texas mom shared on Facebook that her 10-year-old girl choked on a fidget spinner part on Saturday, May 13.

Since new reports are coming out daily either praising or denouncing fidget spinners, below are the basic facts about them so you can decide for yourself.

What Are Fidget Spinners?

Red fidget spinner

So, what are fidget spinners? If you haven’t already seen one, they are colorful and quirky little hand-held pieces that can easily fit into your pocket. They have a sturdy center-point with a disc that holds paddle-like wings that can orbit between your fingers. Much like a helicopter or a fan, fidget spinners can be spun on one’s finger for a couple of minutes at a time, which creates a pleasing and calming effect. They are usually made with plastic and can have bits of metal. They are lightweight and easy to carry, making them very accessible to students and office workers who want to take them out at any time.

These fidget spinners were initially marketed as tools for anxiety, as they were designed for children with ADHD and autism.

Many retailers praise them as a fantastic resource for stress relief, according to Time Magazine. They can also promote mental relaxation for those who are used to picking up their phones when they need a break. The spinning sensation allows “fidgety” hands to be occupied, which some say improve concentration.

While the tool is meant to be educational, retailers have since turned them into distracting schoolyard spectacles. Equipped with exciting patterns, colorful silicone parts, aluminum, and even light-up LEDs, fidget spinners have now become a cool fad among kids.

How Do Fidget Spinners Help With ADHD, Autism, And Anxiety?

Originally, fidget spinners were created to help individuals deal with stress; they’re supposed to help soothe kids and help them cope with sensory processing issues.

Occupational therapists have, for a long while now, prescribed fidget toys like putties and clays to help kids with autism and ADHD. According to Impact ADHD, fidget toys have been a go-to tool for therapists, teachers, and counselors to manage attention regulation. Specifically, for people with ADHD, fidget toys allow the need for constant stimulation to be fulfilled. Attention can be refocused while a distraction in the background caters to their need for physical stimulation.

Stress management, supplemented with fidget spinners, has shown some exemplary results. According to Health.com, fidget toys should complement other treatment methods, like medications and psychotherapy, to get the best results. However, the level of effectiveness can vary from case to case.

Do Fidget Spinners Really Work?

Paint splattered fidget spinner

Fidget spinners are very efficient given that they are used in combination with other treatments. But fidget toys alone do not cure anxiety, ADHD, and autism. No research has been done yet to prove that fidget spinners completely cure attention issues. “I know there’s 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,” Scott Kollins, a clinical psychologist and professor at Duke University, told NPR.

Supporters of the fidget spinner will tell you that they are designed to be fiddled with in a healthy and low-profile manner during times of distress or restlessness. They allow people to acknowledge their discomfort while helping them deal with it. When a person is experiencing anxiety, for example, fidgeting toys can calm them down and encourage good thoughts or positive affirmations. Calm Clinic states that humans can be behaviorally conditioned to overcome symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, and autism just by learning to find new associations with the help of their fidget spinners.

Why Are Fidget Spinners So Popular?

Fingers on a fidget spinner

In 2016, fidget spinners became the most in-demand item among kids 7-years-old through high school age. They are being sold in every color and finish imaginable, with endless options for add-ons and upgrades. There is such an enormous demand for them that stores have sold out on numerous occasions.

So why have they gotten so popular? Users have noted that fidget spinners make mundane moments fun and entertaining. Many have even turned to social media to learn different tricks and spins, which has made them extremely promotable through YouTube, Instagram, and other platforms. The deep root of its uprising may not be known – as parents, we may never understand the trends of tomorrow, just like our parents never really understood ours.

What Do Doctors Think of Fidget Spinners?

So, what do doctors think fidget spinners are good for, if anything? Reviews are mixed. The use of sensory tools or fidget toys have been researched and promoted by the medical community for years. However, some doctors have seen the growing trend for fidget spinners to be more of a nuisance than a tool to help kids focus. These toys can quickly become distracting with their attractive colors and shapes (some even make noises).

Some scientists and doctors have also suggested that the distracting factors of a fidget spinner outweigh the benefits. Their visually appealing aspects can hold a child’s attention more than a teacher or some reading materials can. When asked by USnews.com, occupational therapist Katherine Ross-Keller explained that fidget spinners can assist individuals with anxiety, ADHD, and autism if the child is given ground rules for their use.

But overall, the consensus is that fidget spinners have become more of a toy than a tool. As another occupational therapist explains, fidget objects are meant to be felt so that attention can be put on the teacher. However, their assorted designs, colors and textures have become counterproductive.

What Do Schools Think Of Fidget Spinners?

Schools and teachers across the nation have found bans on fidget spinners necessary. Although banning has happened on a case-by-case basis, many teachers are united in their annoyance. As one school in Evanston, Illinois, describes to the Chicago Tribune, their ban is based on the alternatives that were available for kids with special needs for fidgeting. Therefore, special needs children can still use their fidget tools in a school-friendly manner.

Another teacher, Christina Bolusi Zawacki, wrote a viral essay in Working Mother on why she was putting a ban in her classroom. “It makes it difficult for me to focus and do my job, and I worry about the students in the room who are completely thrown off-track because it’s all they see,” she wrote. “These are not the suitable devices they were intended to be. Instead, they’ve become the Millennial/Gen Z/Linkster version of Pokémon cards, POGS, or Tamagotchis.”

Where Can You Buy A Fidget Spinner?

Different fidget spinners

Fidget spinners are very inexpensive — you can find them on Amazon for under $10. Most fidget spinners in stores are higher quality and between $10 and $20. Online retailers like eBay sell them for half the price.

You can also find reasonably priced ones at big-box stores like Walmart, Target, and Toys-R-Us. But don’t be surprised if you go to several stores only to be turned back because the retailers have sold out. They really are flying off the shelves!

What Are Other Fidget Toys?

A fidget cube

Many parents are writing their children’s schools for exceptions on the bans because fidget toys have long been a part of their child’s therapeutic process. As bans become more imminent, what other options are there for children who really do benefit from this tool? Fortunately, there is a huge selection of other fidget toys available on the market. Fidget Cubes are one of the most popular fidget toys, having six sides of contrasting functions. They are quiet and discreet, with multiple options to satisfy the senses. Other products include putties, sensory balls, and pen caps to chew on.

Many other school-friendly options are available as well, including spreading a thin layer of glue on the hands, letting it dry, and then peeling it off. Some children find this method to be very therapeutic while preventing them from nail biting or skin peeling. Other options include the use of Velcro, which has a soothing texture.

If your preteen or teenager is begging you for a fidget spinner, make sure to check your school’s policies. The key is to discern whether it will help or disturb your child’s learning environment.

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