When I asked a colleague if he knew about fidget spinners, he responded: “I’d never heard of them until last week, when my son told me he had to have one.” Don’t know what a fidget spinner is? Not to worry – most people who aren’t in touch with school-age children don’t have a clue neither.

A fidget spinner has two or three paddle-shaped blades attached to a central core. Squeeze the core, give the blades a flick and they spin.

Although they were invented in the 1990s, fidget spinners became a popular toy in 2017.

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Often marketed with health benefits, the toy began being used by school children, resulting in some schools banning the spinners, arguing that the toy became a distraction in classrooms. Other schools are allowing the toy to be used discreetly by children in order to help them concentrate.

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When fidget spinners rose in popularity in 2017, many publications discussed their claimed benefits for individuals with ADHD, autism, or anxiety. As Money detailed, fidget spinners were “created and marketed as a calming tool used to stay focused.”. Some fidget spinners sold on Amazon were advertised as “stress relievers.” Hettinger accounted her knowledge of “a special needs teacher who used it with autistic kids, and it really helped to calm them down.” James Plafke of Forbes explained, “ultimately, though, there isn’t enough research regarding whether or not these spinners can actually help people from a mental health standpoint”. Experts themselves were polarized on this claim, as some supported the notion of its benefit for those with ADHD and autism, while others argued the spinners could actually be more distracting than helpful with focusing.

When reporting on their effects for individuals with ADHD, CNN cited Elaine Taylor-Klaus, the co-founder of ImpactADHD, a coaching service for children with attention disorders and their parents. Taylor-Klaus stated “For some people with ADHD, there’s a need for constant stimulation. What a fidget allows some people – not all people – with ADHD to do is to focus their attention on what they want to focus on, because there’s sort of a background motion that’s occupying that need.” U.S. News & World Report referenced two occupation therapists interviewed by WTOP, Katherine Ross-Keller and Stephen Poss.

Ross-Keller stated, “Fidgets are great tools for kids who need them, as long as there are ground rules set up with the child and educator in advance, and as long as the child can follow the rules.” Poss offered a more critical view of the spinners, “the spinner toys, in my opinion, and that of teachers I’ve spoken to, are just that – toys,” adding, “fidget objects are meant to be felt, so that visual attention can be focused on the teacher. Spinner toys are visually distracting, and I think that’s their major drawback.”