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Toy or tool? The spinners start-
ed as an aide for kids with ADHD
(Attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder), now a worldwide fad.
The gadgets may help some kids
concentrate, but distract others.
If you know a child in school, or
a parent or teacher of one, chanc-
es are you've seen the simple little
colourful device that's driving them
all crazy lately.
It's called a fidget spinner, and
even its name gives you a clue as to
why some classrooms are banning
them—and some toy stores are sell-
ing out. The toy is the latest craze
to sweep the globe, but it actually
has a really interesting history as
an educational tool.
What is it?
A fidget spinner is considered to
be a type of fidget toy; a low profile,
handheld device that people can,
well, fidget with without making
a big scene. A fidget spinner has a
stable middle and a disc with two
or three paddles that can be spun,
much like a ceiling fan. The result is
supposed to be relaxing and satis-
fying, and really good spinners can
keep going for minutes at a time.
The little devices were originally
designed to help students with at-
tention disorders like ADD (Atten-
tion Deficit Disorder). Experts say
having something to occupy their
hands may help improve concentra-
tion. However, the spinners caught
on with the general population, and
now come in every colour and fin-
ish imaginable, with add-ons and
What's the appeal?
Cindy O'Hara owns two Learning
Express franchises near Atlanta.
She has watched toy fads come
and go in her stores for 19 years,
and for right now, fidget spinners
are the hottest things they stock.
"The demand is huge," she said.
"We've sold out multiple times."
She says the kids that come in
to her store are drawn to the dif-
ferent colours and patterns. Some
spinners are made of smooth sili-
cone parts, others aluminum, and
other plastic ones are adorned with
emojis and tie dye.
Recently, Learning Express start-
ed stocking a light-up LED version.
"It really appeals to the core kid
ages, about seven through the high
school years," she says. "Of course,
some of the younger siblings want
Youtube videos of spinner tricks
and hacks have racked up millions
of views since the toys got popular.
How does it help
kids with ADHD?
Spinners might be new to the
must-have toy aisle, but they've
been a tool for teachers, guidance
counsellors and therapists for a
"Promoting fidgeting is a com-
mon method for managing at-
tention regulation," says Elaine
Taylor-Klaus. Taylor-Klaus is the
co-founder of ImpactADHD, a
coaching service for children with
attention disorders and their par-
"For some people (with ADHD),
there's a need for constant stim-
ulation," she says. "What a fidget
allows some people—not all peo-
ple—with ADHD to do is to focus
their attention on what they want
to focus on, because there's sort of
a background motion that's occu-
pying that need."
If you've ever watched people
tap pencils, twist pieces of paper
or even doodle in meetings, you've
seen the power of fidgeting in ac-
Could they present a
problem at school?
Some schools ban fidget spin-
ners. Of course, if there's some-
thing more interesting than a good
toy fad, it's a good toy fad that's
also kind of controversial.
One story out of Australia claims
a school in Shepparton banned
them after a wayward spinner in-
jured a boy's eye. Schools around
the US and UK are posting warn-
ings on social media and sending
notes home to parents discouraging
Taylor-Klaus says she under-
stands how the spinners can cause
"There are definitely times that
kids don't know how to use a fidget
and it becomes the primary focus
instead of the background focus,"
she says. It's what happens when
they move from tool to toy.
"Spinners are visually distract-
ing, and they can make some noise,
so it's not an ideal fidget for the
classroom. But still, not allowing
them in schools is probably throw-
ing the baby out with the bath wa-
ter," she says.
Natalie Jones of Huntsville, Ala-
bama, has three children and her
eldest, 11-year-old Alex, is into fid-
get spinners. The fad came over
her son quickly: One day, she had
no idea what a fidget spinner even
was; the next day, she was helping
him order one off of Amazon with
his allowance money.
Jones has seen the complaints
some parents and teachers have
made on Facebook, and she doesn't
understand the big deal.
"Everybody is hating on them,
saying, 'Oh my gosh, what's going
on,' but with kids having cell phones
and all of this technology, we're
already used to seeing them with
things in their hands," she says.
Jaylon Rozier is a junior at
Southeast Guilford High School
in Greensboro, North Carolina. He
says spinners are common in his
school, and they're not much of a
"You can be really discreet about
it," he says. "You can just take it out
underneath your desk or use your
non-dominant hand while you're
Rozier noticed the devices a few
months before they got popular,
and his interest was piqued.
"I have epilepsy, and the medica-
tion I take to control it ratchets up
my need to move around," he says.
So far, his teachers haven't said
anything negative, and one even
inquired about how she could get
a spinner of her own.
Is this part of a larger trend?
Like all toy fads, fidget spinners
will come and go, so it's important
to remember two things: one, that
fidget spinners had a real, produc-
tive purpose before they became a
fad; and two, that they are part of a
larger trend of fidget gadgets that
also has more mature followers.
Products like fidget cubes are also
seeing a surge in demand. These
cubes look like very large dice and
have different "functions" on each
side that can be pressed, flicked or
clicked to relieve nervous energy.
They are often marketed to adults
as well as children.
July 23, 2017 • Page 2
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