By Gina Gibson, Sensory Inclusion Specialist and Pam Dewey • fidget toys, fidget benefits, fidget toy benefits, fidget tool, ADHD, autism, ASD, sensory processing, sensory sensitivity, sensory processing difficulties, sensory regulation, • August 11, 2021
Fidget toys are everywhere these days. We’ve gone way beyond fidget spinners. Now there are Pop Its, squishies, monkey noodles, chewlery, finger squeezers and, of course, stress balls.
While fidgets can be fun for kids, both big and small, these can also be an important tool for children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and sensory processing sensitivities.
Fidgets can help kids regulate
People with autism often have sensory processing sensitivities, but other people also struggle with sensory processing. Those with sensory processing sensitivities experience sensory overload and may find things like bright lights, loud noises or new smells overwhelming. Fidget toys can help them calm down when they feel overwhelmed by providing different sensory input. At places like salons or dentist’s offices, fidgets can also help individuals by giving them something safe to do or hold with their hands, rather than touching the tools.
Fidgets can help kids focus better
For children with ADHD, paying attention in school can be a real struggle. But using fidgets can help. According to Additude Mag, “In his recent book, Spark, John Ratey, M.D., shows that physical activity — even something as small as fidgeting the hands — increases levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the way ADHD medications do. Both chemicals play a key role in sharpening focus and increasing attention.” Research shows for kids with ADHD, doing two activities at once, can actually help them focus better on the first activity. It’s the same concept that applies to people having better concentration while chewing gum: the gum acts like a fidget by providing stimulation that increases alertness and reduces stress.
Find the right fidget for your kid
But not all fidget toys will be the right fit for all kids. Fidgets can also be a distraction, so you’ll want to find a fidget that addresses the issues your child is having. Fraser Sensory Inclusion Specialist Gina Gibson says it’s important your child is using a fidget as a tool, not a toy. Here is an example Gibson gives of finding the appropriate fidget for a child.
Johnny is a student in the first grade. He has a diagnosis of ADHD and has sensory needs. He has a difficult time sitting still at school. Johnny fidgets in his chair and is distracted by the artwork on the walls, making it hard for him to learn. He uses a fidget spinner to provide his hands with tactile sensory input, so he can sit still longer. While using the fidget spinner, he pays less attention to the artwork and more attention to what the teacher is teaching. Johnny is using the fidget spinner as a tool rather than a toy.
However, for a child with a typical attention span, Gibson says, a fidget spinner in school would be a distraction and could cause them to lose focus on what their teacher is saying.
Finding the right fidget is important. Fidgets are usually the most effective when the toy is small enough to travel with, but not so small that it gets easily lost; quiet and discrete, so it isn’t overly distracting and, of course, it should be an item the individual finds motivating or soothing. The right fidget helps kids calm down, focus better, study more effectively and listen more attentively.