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Fidget Spinners: 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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Fidget Tools Overview

There are many strategies children use to attempt to regulate themselves. Whether this is more obvious Fidget Tooland large scale such as jumping on a trampoline or spinning around in circles continuously, or smaller, more discrete ways such as grinding their teeth, picking their skin, or squeezing their fists, each of these strategies are satisfying a need within their sensory systems.

These can be mindless or intentional, but the bottom line is that it is fulfilling their bodies and brains in a way that only they can truly understand. While we want to allow children to gain as much sensory input as they need to maintain a regulated state, it is important to explore options that are appropriate and safe. One such option is called “fidgets,” and they are a great tool, especially within the classroom environment, so as not to draw attention away from class learning.

It is important to understand the root of your child’s sensory seeking behaviors in order to provide him or her with the most appropriate fidget tool. There are two main sensory systems that fidget toys typically stimulate; these are the tactile and the proprioceptive system. The body reads touch based on light and deep touch, light being more stimulating (tactile) and deep being more calming (proprioceptive). Think, the feeling of a feather brushing across the underside of your arm versus the feeling of a deep tissue back massage.

  • If your child seeks regulation through obtaining deep pressure input i.e. jumping, crashing, and squeezing, a fidget that targets the proprioceptive system may be the best option. To put this in perspective, think about a child friendly and inviting “stress ball.” These may be in various forms, i.e. foam resistance balls, stretchy theraband, theraputty, and squeeze toys.
  • If your child tends to seek regulation through touch i.e. seemingly mindlessly touching other people, fabrics, or objects, a fidget that targets the tactile system may be the best option. For example, swatches of various fabrics, bracelets with a preferred fabric, and balls or other toys with bumps or (soft) spikes.
  • If your child seeks regulation through movement, and you are looking for something to provide him or her with that while maintaining appropriateness based on the environment (…as it may be frowned upon to start doing jumping jacks in the middle of circle time), there are options for this, as well. When it comes to movement, though it is important to consider if the fidget is facilitating the child to cope and pay better attention, or if it is actually contributing to increased distractibility. Typically, if a child needs their eyes to utilize the fidget, it may not be serving its ideal purpose and other options should be considered. Fidgets that provide movement include snaps, marble tubes, and plastic tangle tubes.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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sensory strategies angry child

Sensory Strategies to Calm the Angry Child

When children are upset, adults are usually able to tell by their behaviors. Some children scream, others cry, throw things or hit someone or something nearby. Below are some therapeutic solutions that can help to calm an angry child safely and effectively.

Sensory Solutions to Help Your Angry Child Calm Down:

  • Provide your child a safe, therapeutic way to release any excessive energy they haveSensory Strategies to Calm the Angry Child from becoming angry. For some children, this may look like hitting their pillow, running, jumping rope, or playing on the swing set. Other children prefer crawling into a safe, but compact space (such as in between a mountain of pillows) or inside of a self-made fort full of cushions, pillows, stuffed animals, and small fidgets. Providing proprioceptive activities, including back rubs, massages, or bear hugs can be helpful tools to use when trying to manage emotional regulation.
  • Teach your child self-calming breathing strategies. When your child is visibly upset or angry, instruct them to breathe in like they are smelling flowers for 5 seconds, and exhale like they are blowing out birthday candles for 5 seconds, for up to one minute at a time. This helps to trigger the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for calming the body down and reducing stress  (click here for 5 yoga activities to help your child calm down).
  • Be proactive. Use a visual chart to help children remember safe ways to manage their anger. Using language such as, “When I feel upset or angry, I can…” combined with visuals of previously learned strategies (deep breathing, back rubs, fidgets, bear hugs, etc.) can help your child learn how to independently manage anger appropriately.
  • When your child is angry, it is important to avoid immediate punishment. Identify a safe, quiet place for the child to go to so that they can implement self-calming strategies to help better their mood. For younger children, set a visual timer for 5-10 minutes. Let the child know they have until the time runs out to calm their body down, and give them a choice of 2 strategies to help them feel better. For older children, encourage them to set a visual timer to decide on the length of the time-out before they are expected to return to the activity.

Is it Bad Behavior or SPD?

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!