Can a Fidget Spinner Help My Child Focus 

Toys for ADHD and Autism

by David Anderson, PhD is Senior Director at the Child Mind Institute 

fidget toys have become more and more popular WPS teachers and leaders are frequently asked whether these fidget spinners are an Autism and ADHD treatment. At WPS teachers are dedicated to helping students who struggle with self-regulation acquire the strategies they as an individual need to succeed independently, as opposed to offering a universal treatment such as a fidget toy. WPS teaches students to recognize when their effort and goal direction is moving away from the task at hand, and how to implement strategies redirect their efforts. The successful acquisition of these strategies help students self-regulate their actions, decisions and creations even in the face of challenge. Our colleague Dr. David Anderson at the Child Mind Institute recently published a video discussing just this. Below please find the transcript from that video.

They’re a toy. They’re a gag gift. Not so much a treatment. My name is Dr. Dave Anderson. I’m a clinical psychologist who trained in specializing in treatment for ADHD and behavior disorders. Fidget spinners are a new craze similar to the slime craze earlier this year, where you have a couple arms on a little device that spins while you hold it. It has kind of this gyroscopic feel where you’re balancing it; maybe you could do some tricks with it. They’re easy to buy, they’re on every street corner, and there’s a sense that to be cool you need to have one. The great thing about fidget spinners is that they’ve brought the discussion for what works for ADHD or what might work for anxiety or stress relief to the forefront, which is great for us to have. The only issue is, they have about as much scientific evidence for stress relief or treatments of anxiety and ADHD as, say, a pet rock. They’re a toy, they’re not a treatment. So the thing is there’s no psychologically recommended gadget. There are only gadgets that fall in line with scientifically based psychological principles. So the idea is for a kid experiencing stress or anxiety or depression or ADHD, we might create, say, a coping kit for that child when they’re experiencing certain amounts of stress. That might include music to listen to, it might include a stress ball to squeeze, it might include something that reminds them to breathe, or to practice a mindfulness strategy. But it’s really on a case-by-case basis. There’s no universal recommendation of a particular toy for stress relief, or a particular object for stress relief. Fidget spinners have absolutely no scientific studies behind them showing any sort of effectiveness in treating this. And the major reason for that is that they’re a fad. They’ve only just come about and scientific studies take time and money. So if something is really new and is making a lot of noise, it’s unlikely to be scientifically supported. And if we’re talking about treatment for anxiety, or for ADHD, or for stress relief, we want to go after things that have a bit more scientific support, like cognitive behavioral strategies for managing their symptoms. In other words, a way of noticing when they might be distractible or when they might be having difficulty focusing and figure out how they might be able to get back on task. We teach them about how to break tasks into smaller pieces and how to make sure that they’re going through each of those pieces and planning for the time that it might take. I think it’s always an issue when any company makes a sensational claim about a new product that provides treatment that isn’t backed by science for mental illness. Fidget spinners are low in terms of that hierarchy, partly because we don’t necessarily think they’re doing any harm. Adults don’t seem swayed in thinking that this is a treatment and it mainly seems like the kids have picked up on this argument that it’s helpful in stress relief as an argument they might have with their teachers or with their parents, and nobody’s buying.

David Anderson, PhD is Senior Director at the Child Mind Institute 


See more:

Preschool Language Disorders by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) 

Learning Disabilities by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) 

Suicide in Children and Teens by TeensHealth!

Visual-Spatial Processing: What You Need to Know By Kate Kelly

Anxiety Disorders by  KidsHealth