The practice of doodling or otherwise fidgeting during meetings is extremely common (ever clicked your ballpoint pen repeatedly, bent a paper clip into odd shapes or drummed your fingers in the desktop?). While schools have previously called such activities distracting and a poor idea in the classroom, there’s some emerging evidence that fidget toys for ADHD and anxiety are the next big thing.
Fidget Toys for ADHD and Anxiety
As many as 11 percent of American children between the ages of four and 17 may have ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ADHD is actually a brain disorder that affects learning. Fidgeting can help a child with ADHD focus; if body parts are moving, it helps the brain’s attention center. While the fingers are moving, the eyes, ears and mind can focus on what the teacher is saying or writing on the blackboard. Even adults may benefit from fidget toys (sometimes called stress toys), whether or not they have ADHD or anxiety. For example, worry stones are often used by adults to help them calm down, which is the same principle as using fidget toys for anxiety.
Fidget Toys and Focus
Environmental distractions occur in many settings. The ability to focus is the key to learning for children and productivity for adults. While a worker in a noisy office might put on head phones, that’s not an option for a school child. Getting up and wandering around in the classroom is distracting to others. Anecdotal reports have indicated something like a fidget toy can be helpful for children, but there is little definitive research, so fidget toys for ADHD may be a controversial subject. Some teachers or schools see fidget toys as a distraction and refuse to allow them.
What About the Research?
Preliminary studies from UC Davis indicate that actual fidgeting – wiggling, bouncing or otherwise moving gently in place – helped children focus on tasks that demanded concentration. These are gross muscle movements, however – movements of large muscles in the arms and legs – as opposed to the hand/wrist motions used with a fidget toy. There is some good evidence that children who have autism can benefit from small, moveable toys that serve the purpose of fidgeting while remaining at a desk. Occupational therapists have long used various kinds of tactile toys like Koosh balls, putty and clay to help sooth children who have sensory-processing issues. In one study, sixth-graders who used stress balls during class were less easily distracted.
How to Choose A Fidget Toy
A good fidget toy should have certain characteristics, both for the benefit of the user and to avoid distracting others. For example, fidget toys should generally be tactile rather than visual. The idea is to allow the student to focus on the teacher while moving the fidget toy in the hand. It should be small enough to fit in a fist and should not make noise. However, it should not be so small that a younger child could swallow it and choke. Since fidget toys may be lost, especially by younger children, it’s best if they are inexpensive. It’s also a good idea to check with the teacher before sending a child to school with fidget toys or stress toys.
Each Situation is Different
So what’s the bottom line when it comes to fidget toys for ADHD? It may very well depend – on the child, on the teacher and the individual school. Some children simply don’t benefit, just as not all people with a particular medical condition respond to a given therapy. If you think your child would benefit, we suggest you try a fidget toy in a home environment and see how your child does. If your child has ADHD or anxiety issues, discuss the use of fidget toys for anxiety or ADHD with his or her doctor or therapist. You’ll probably have better luck getting the school to allow a fidget toy recommended by a medical professional.
Our Fidget Toys
Not all fidget toys are created equal. A fidget toy may be a three-armed spinner, with ball bearings in each arm that can be manipulated with the fingers – or something like a cube that has different shapes and protuberances on each side. Some are really intended to be more game-like – you can manipulate them in different ways to get certain results. These are probably not as good a choice for a school environment. However, they might be perfect for a car trip or the school bus. We offer the following fidget toys:
Children who are dealing with conditions like ADHD and anxiety need help. Sometimes it might be a fidget toy that truly makes a difference. Try it and see – and make it a point to tell medical and education professionals about the results. Until more research is available, your and your child’s experiences can make the difference.