In 2017, fidget spinners took the toy world by storm, to an unprecedented level. Sure, there are toy crazes every year, but never before have we seen 73 spots in Amazon's top 100 best-selling toys list taken up by different variations of exactly the same toy.
For months, you literally couldn't walk down the street without seeing one and, for a while, they were a serious commodity - stores were selling their entire stock in hours and simply couldn't keep up with demand.
As some of you may know, in my other life I work in the toy world and, at one point, industry colleagues of mine were reporting profits of 800% on every spinner sold. They were literally a license to print money.
But, as is often the case, toy crazes disappear just as quickly as they arrived and this one literally dropped off a cliff overnight. Israeli toy shops that were selling spinners for 50-80 shekels ($13-$22) just a few weeks ago, now can't even shift them for 10 ($2.75).
'Who cares?' I hear you cry. Well, I care, and I'll tell you why...
Whilst most toy crazes come and go without consequence, this miniature cyclone has left a trail of destruction in its wake, and it's us, the ADHD community, that's left behind to pick up the pieces.
Fidget toys are not new to us ADHDers. We've been using them for years to help us to maintain focus on our work or studies, whilst simultaneously satisfying our brain's yearning for stimulation.
This video from Jessica at HowToADHD explains a little more about the science behind fidgeting:
So what's the problem? Well, fidget spinners became so popular that school classrooms became flooded with them. Rather than helping people to focus, teachers found that children were just getting distracted by their spinners and they started to ban them. Some schools went even further and banned all fidget toys, leaving children with ADHD, who might genuinely need a fidget to help them focus in class, forced to cope without one, potentially resulting in profoundly negative consequences, both academically and behaviourally.
As it happens, I actually agree with the ban on fidget spinners in schools, because fidget toys are generally only effective at promoting focus when they meet two criteria:
1. They must be completely silent when in use.
2. When being used, they must be out of sight of the teacher, the child using them and any other children in the class.
If either of these criteria is not met by a fidget toy, it will inevitably end up distracting one or more people in the class, and causing more damage than good. Fidget spinners don't meet either of these criteria and, as such, are simply not appropriate fidgets for the classroom.
However, there are many great fidgets out there that are both silent and easily concealable. For a child with ADHD, being allowed to fidget can mean the difference between being able to focus in class, enabling them to actually learn something new, and losing attention completely, leaving them unable to learn and at risk of getting into trouble. When you consider how important a child's education is in terms of their future prospects for leading a successful life in adulthood, the importance of allowing appropriate fidgets really should not be under-estimated.
Banning ALL fidget toys is a classic example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Teachers need to be made better aware of the benefits that fidget toys bring to children with ADHD and empowered to distinguish between the children that have a genuine need for one and those that do not. Similarly, parents and children that are dealing with ADHD need to put careful thought into selecting a fidget toy that satisfies the child's need for stimulation, without becoming a distraction to anyone else.
So, teachers, I share your pain and I support your ban on fidget spinners. But please, please don't punish us all by banning ALL fidget toys, just because of this transitory fad! Our fidgets may not seem important to you, but to us they may represent our best hope of being able to listen in class and get the most out of your lessons!
Here are some examples of fidget toys that are great for the classroom:
Putty is a wonderful fidget toy for the classroom. The child can hold it in their pocket, or under their desk, and manipulate it whilst never needing to remove their gaze from the teacher. Unlike plasticine, it has a firmness to it that means it leaves no residue on anything it has touched and is virtually mess-free
A Boink is a cylindrical mesh made of nylon, sealed at both ends, with a marble stuck inside. It is completely silent to use and small enough not to distract anyone else. The mesh can be pulled, squeezed and folded, while the marble can be moved from one end to the other, all without anyone else even knowing it's there.
Thai Hand Massager
This little known gem is without doubt my favourite fidget. Essentially, it is nothing more than a wooden cube, with it's corners rounded and its sides smoothed, but there is something unbelievably stimulating about holding and moving it in your hand. Honestly, it's one of those things that I think you just need to experience to appreciate but trust me, when you pick it up, you won't want to put it down!
Do you have a favourite fidget toy? What's your stance on fidget spinners? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments...