Sunday 11 June 2017

Please stop calling them toys!

I have something that I desperately need to get off of my chest and it is about fidget spinners.

Please stop calling them toys.

Please start calling them by their name - fidget spinners, fidget cubes or fidget tools.

There are so many different varieties of fidget tools on the market at present, fidget spinners, fidget cubes, fidget rings and so on, that they've become the latest "it"  thing for children and adults of all ages to possess. They've become a craze.

But by calling them toys, the real reason for needing to use them is being lost on the majority of society. And it doesn't help the cause that many department stores are stocking them in the toy department.


It is come to the point that many schools have banned fidget spinners as they are becoming a distraction to students in class. They're causing arguments in the classroom and playground. I can see the reasoning behind banning them but it is at the detriment of those that need to use them.

Both O and L have a sensory bag that they take to school with them every day. L uses the contents of his sensory bag as means to escape from the sensory overload that he regularly finds himself in.

O uses her small sensory kit to assist her to cope with her anxiety while in the classroom. There is a fidget cube in her sensory kit, along with a marble maze and a few squishy objects. O also has a sensory band around the legs of her chair that she is able to swing her legs on.

The idea behind O's sensory kit is that if O's hands are busy, her mind can stay still to concentrate on the task at hand - her brain is able to filter out the extra sensory information and she is able to concentrate on listening to her teachers. O is less likely to internalise her anxiety if she is able to fidget.

Now I'm not an Occupational Therapist (OT) by any stretch of the imagination, but when I have spoken to L's OT, the following is some of the reasoning behind needing to fidget that I have been told.

It all has to do with sensory integration but more on that subject at a later date. The concept is that some of us seek out things to touch and feel, to provide the "just right" amount of sensory input that we need to calm our nervous system. There are many ways in which children on the Autism spectrum can gain sensory input - jumping, bouncing, rocking, spinning, running and so on - but these activities can be very distracting to others in class.

Fidget spinners and fidget cubes are a less distracting way of gaining this input or to assist as a calming mechanism. The extra sensory information that is bombarding their brain and causing them to become distracted is instead used to focus on manipulating the sensory tool in their hands.

The hands can be very effective regulators of the body's nervous system due to the high amount of neurological and sensory input that they receive throughout the course of a day.

When O is able to fidget, her anxiety, which usually manifests due to an overload of sensory input from the environment around her, is regulated by using her fidget tools. In effect, fidgeting stops her anxiety in it's tracks, or least slows it down to a manageable level.

At the beginning of the current school year, O was very hesitant to use her sensory tools in class as she didn't want to get into trouble or draw attention to herself. The first few weeks were dreadful for O, she was able to hold it together all day at school but when she arrived home, she would explode and let all her pent up stress out.

Once we went in and spoke with O's teachers as to the reason why she needed to use her sensory kit and assured O that she wouldn't get herself into trouble, we noticed a huge difference in her behaviour at home. Sure, she still has the occasional meltdown at home but now we've able to ascertain the reason behind those meltdowns. At the beginning of the school year, we were completely in the dark as to what was causing the meltdowns.

In saying that, when speaking with her teachers, we explained to them that the minute O started looking at the fidget tools while using them, was the minute that she no longer needed to use them. A fidget spinner or fidget tool works best when it can be used in one hand and DOESN'T need to be looked at. If O is looking at the fidget tools, she is distracted by them and is using them as a means to get out of doing whatever she should be concentrating on.

We have fidget spinners at home, O uses one every afternoon while we are completing her spelling homework. I can not speak for everyone, but what I can tell you is that when O is using her fidget spinner she never makes a mistake when spelling her words out loud. Take the fidget spinner away or stop her from fidgeting or spinning on the spot and hooley dooley ....... she's distracted, she can't concentrate and homework ends in a meltdown.

I have a fidget cube that I take to work with me and have occasionally given it to my Kindy children as a means of distracting them when they are distressed. It works a treat! They can focus their emotions on the cube and it assists them to level out their emotional state. I've also recently put together a sensory kit to use at work - it has a squishy ball in it, various plastic animals that I know particular children absolutely love, a toy train, some calm down bottles, some stretchy bands that one of my co-workers made and numerous other sensory tools. Yes some of the items in the kit are in fact toys, but when used to calm or distract a child, they become tools.

What we also need to remember is that fidget spinners and tools have always been present in classrooms around the world. Did you ever spin your pencils or pens between your fingers while at school? Ever doodled on a notepad when you should have been concentrating? Did you ever bend a paper clip out or fiddle with a piece of blu tak? Mmmmmm!

Everyone fidgets at some stage and if you are one that has never needed to fidget, then I would imagine that you would definitely be in the minority!

So the next time that you hear yourself about to say "stop fidgeting," to your child or a student in your class, have a look and think about the reason why they are fidgeting. Are they doing it to simply get out of completing a task or are they needing to fidget to regulate their own emotions and sensory input?

And please, please do not call them toys!


  1. This is an eyeopener. I can already tell my daughter will be a fidgeter. shes constantly kicking her little legs, My son on the other hand I never picked up on any fidgeting but after reading this, I will have to pay more attention.

    I know I fidget a lot myself so this post is a little bit of an eye opener. Thank you

  2. I could have used a fidget spinner or something similar when I was in school. Having a son who is the same, these types of items have been so helpful in getting him to focus!

  3. Yes yes to all of this !! My son has a SPD and he constantly needs to be moving some part of his body, even if it's just chewing on gum. I agree that they shouldn't be called toys for those children who can really benefit from using them !

  4. Interesting bc I did not really know much about the purpose of these fidget items. Thanks for that point of view and I'll keep it in mind moving forward!

  5. Yes! Such a great point!! Thanks for putting that out there. Truly they aren't toys. Ha I always know my husband is thinking really hard when he is drumming or tapping on the table ;)

  6. Yes!! They are not toys!!! Someone saw it as money making scheme.

  7. I heard before about their original purpose and it's frustrating how much it's been taken as a kids toy. Thanks for sharing this!


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