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Fidget Tools: The Bottom Line

A fidget tool is one sensory strategy used to help children achieve self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to maintain an optimum level of arousal in order to participate in daily activities.Blog-Fidget Spinners-Main-Landscape (1) Self-regulation is a critical component of learning, as it can impact a student’s attention, emotional regulation and impulse control; a child’s performance in the classroom is directly related to his regulatory state.

A child’s nervous system, specifically the sensory system, needs input to help achieve a regulated state to successfully complete tasks. The theory behind fidget tools is that it provides a sensory experience to increase self-regulation, attention, participation and performance.

During the school day, a child’s body works tirelessly to perform the functions necessary to participate in the classroom. Children need:

  • Muscle control and endurance to sustain a seated, upright position to sit at a desk or on the rug during circle time.
  • Auditory attention to attend to instructions and lessons, while also blocking out surrounding sounds of peers chattering, shuffling papers or chairs scooting across the floor.
  • Visual attention to read work instructions, look at the teacher during lessons and complete written work, while also blocking out other visual distractions around the classroom.
  • Impulse and body control to keep hands, legs and other body parts from touching objects or peers nearby.
  • Emotional control to regulate emotions when happy, sad, confident, frustrated or embarrassed throughout the day.

For some kids, the demands of the classroom environment exceed what their bodies can handle. This isn’t due to a lack of intelligence or willingness to learn; it stems from difficulty coping with a neurologic system that isn’t organizing and responding appropriately to a variety of sensory stimulation from the external world.

The result of a child’s inability to organize his nervous system during the school day is an increase in behaviors that are often deemed inappropriate or distracting in the classroom. Such behaviors may include inability to sit still, wandering around the room, constant touching of objects or peers, laying on the floor, emotional outbursts, not following directions or not understanding how to complete a task.

These behaviors are actually how the child attempts to regulate his body to participate in the classroom. To minimize these behaviors and increase positive participation, it is important that the child is set up for success by providing individualized strategies for him to sustain a regulated state throughout the day.

One of these strategies is the fidget tool. I frequently recommend that my clients use a fidget tool in the classroom to help sustain attention and increase performance. Fidgets come in a variety of forms including Koosh balls, stress balls, small weighted balls, small figurines or fidget spinners.

Fidget tool recommendations are always given with the stipulation that the student must understand that the fidget needs to be used appropriately. I suggest that the parent and teacher review appropriate uses for the fidget with the child (i.e keeping the fidget in the hands, under the desk in the child’s lap), inappropriate uses for the fidget (i.e. throwing the fidget, rolling the fidget, giving the fidget to a friend) and the consequences for inappropriate use of the fidget (i.e. having the fidget taken away). Laying out clear guidelines for the use of the fidget helps students know the expectations and follow the rules.

While several schools have banned the use of fidget spinners in the classroom due to the craze they have caused, as an occupational therapist I support fidget tools as a sensory, regulatory strategy, as long as clear expectations are set and rules are followed. I have seen great success in my clients’ performance and attention when they use fidgets appropriately and not as a toy.

Does that mean my child needs a fidget spinner?

Fidget spinners or tools may not be suitable for everyone. Each person’s sensory system will respond differently to various strategies and may be needed at different times during the day. Some children benefit from fidget tools during writing activities, some may benefit from the tool during lecture periods and others may require use of the fidget more frequently. There may also be children who have difficulty with self-regulation where fidget spinners or fidget tools cause increased distraction or dysregulation. Check out our other blogs for ideas on other strategies that may be incorporated in the classroom to promote optimal performance.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Dana Pais

Dana Pais

Dana Pais, OTD, OTR/L is an occupational therapist who obtained her Masters of Occupational Therapy (MS) and Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. During her doctoral studies, she spent time working in Lima, Peru at the Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru (CASP), a center for families and their children with cognitive and physical disabilities, where she provided intervention for many children and their families in the areas of low vision accessibility, independent living, school inclusion and supportive employment. Her interests include sensory processing and its impact on daily life and managing visual deficits. She is passionate about helping children reach their full potential in every aspect of their lives.

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1 reply
  1. Linda says:

    WOW! Wonderful, thoughtfully written and informational article. I very much appreciated the recommendation to set up the guidelines and expectations for the use of a fidget.

    Adults doodle, and yes use squoosh balls, etc. It makes sense for these sensory tools to be available for our little ones, helping hrm stay organized is kind and allows them the opportunity to engage and be successful in their suction. Love this.

    Reply

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