Doing Life Together

girl-486950_1920I was asked to be on a radio interview this a.m. to talk about the fad toy, the fidget spinner. Kids love them. Some teachers want to ban them from the classroom because they are distracting.

The question is, “Does the fidget spinner help kids who are fidgety?” I’ve heard all kinds of answers–everything from it helps children with ADHD, PTSD and anxiety. But is there science behind these claims? Or, are we hearing anecdotes from parents?

Before we get to the science, the fidget spinner has an interesting history. It was not developed by a behaviorist or neuroscientist, or even an innovative lab team. According to Time Magazine, it was created by a woman named Catherine Hettinger, who had the idea that the spinner might help children calm down in unsettled environments like the middle east. She imagined it to be an alternative to kids throwing rocks at police, maybe even a way to promote world peace. But toy companies did not catch her vision and the toy did not become a sensation until now.

Teachers will tell you that the fidget spinners make a low noise. But when you get a bunch of kids spinning them in a room, they can be distracting. More important, Duke University clinical psychologist and professor, Scott Kollins, tells us that there is no evidence to support the claim that this tiny gadget helps children focus.

One of the possible suggested application of spinners is with kids with autism. But Dr. Pilar Trelles, a psychiatrist and autism expert at Mount Sinai Health System in New York gives these cautions: 1)  “For children who have high arousal, this could cause them to be overstimulated and hyperactive.” 2) Kids with neurodevelopment disorders could become preoccupied with the device. 3) Because these devices involve repetitive firing of the body’s visual system, there is some concern about children being triggered with seizure disorders.

Kids with ADHD also use fidgeting as a coping mechanism. The thinking is that fidgeting may help an ADHD  child’s working memory in that movement may stimulate under active parts of the brain (e.g., dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) involved in attention, planning and impulse control. However, the fidget spinner is much less of a physical activity than a child fidgeting, so it doesn’t give the same benefit as the child actually moving his or her body.

Bottom line, we don’t have evidence for real benefit of this toy at this time. Like most fad toys, the fidget spinner will probably come and go and eventually be relegated to join the bin of other fad toys. Better to engage in active play–dig in the sand, run, play tag and work off that extra energy!

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