Fidget Spinners – The For, The Against, The Important

I recently cottoned on to the latest schoolyard craze – fidget spinners. They seem silly to me (all they do is spin!), but they have kids all over Australia (and the Western World) begging their parents for a spare $10 to go get one. When I dug a little deeper into this newest “toy”, I found that public opinion has been divided since their popularity boom a few months ago. While I thought this little ball-bearing-based spinner was just a toy, it turns out that it’s a whole lot more than that.

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While there’s a whole lot of arguments from both sides of the fence (those who are pro-fidget spinners, and those against), I’ve chosen the top two reasons from each side for a quick catch-up on what’s been going on. And then I’ll let you know what I think about this whole thing.

From the Pro-Side

Useful for kids with ADHD, autism and anxiety

The biggest argument from the pro-spinners side is that they are a useful tool for kids with ADHD, autism, anxiety, and other similar conditions. Occupational therapist Sandra Mortimer said “It can help with emotional regulation for children feeling anxious, worried and nervous.” While there is no academic research about fidget spinners in particular, fidget tools (such as putty and stress balls) have long been known to help with this. The lack of specific academic research is to be expected though– fidget spinners are only a few months old, and research takes literally forever (well, a really long time at least).

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Not only is it useful for these kids in their learning; there have also been many happy stories about previously excluded children now being welcomed by peers. Clinical psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer agreed, saying “Children with additional needs often struggle to fit in and be the cool kids, and it was really nice to see a toy that they have that everybody else wants.”  How nice.

It allows extra creativity

One of the interesting things to come from the fidget spinner craze has been the creative (well, weird) ways they have been used. I typed “fidget spinner” into YouTube, and it returned 5.8 million videos (in only a couple months!). From 24hour livestreams, to tricks, to new styles of music, and battles, these little toys have prompted people to be creative in a new and unexpected way. While it (definitely) wasn’t the original intention of fidget spinners, they have proven to be a new way to be creative.

From the Anti-Side

It’s not even that good a fidget

Fighting directly against the argument that fidget spinners aid kids with autism is the argument that fidget spinners are not good tools. Fidgeting is no new thing – it’s been encouraged for years – it’s just that the fidget spinner is the new thing. Even when I was in primary school, some kids had stress balls, blu-tac or other things to fiddle with in class to help them focus on what they were supposed to be doing. Do you click your pen repeatedly sometimes? That’s a fidget tool.

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The problem people have with fidget spinners is that they are not a useful tool. Dr Annemarie Christie gives five main reasons why the fidget spinner is an ineffective fidget tool – it’s too big (fidgets should fit in a kids palm), too noisy (they should be silent), too flashy (they should not distract) , there’s no evidence to support it, and it’s now mostly used as a toy. They also require hand-eye coordination, which means that the kid now must focus on the fidget. Clinical psychologist and head of the ADHD and Behavioral Disorders Center in New York, Dr David Anderson, gave his view on the fidget spinner craze, saying “Mental illness is difficult to treat, and it’s not something for which there are simple solutions.”

This argument basically comes down to people agreeing that fidgeting can be a good thing, but that fidget spinners are not the tool to use.

Distraction for others

The story I’ve been hearing the most from the anti-side has been about fidget spinners being banned in classrooms because they are too distracting. While they were originally welcomed in classrooms, they have now been banned in many places. When one kid had a spinner, the whirring was okay – “When you have 10 or 15 in a room, it’s just this whirring and it’s an irresistible siren call for everyone else to turn around and look at whoever has it out, and [it’s] completely distracting.”

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While fidget spinners have been heralded as a tool to stop distraction, they’ve really been causing a whole lot of disruptive distractions in classrooms. They’re just too noisy, too popular, too breakable and too fun to be a useful tool anymore. They are simply too distracting, and as such have been fought against and banned.

The stories neither side wants

Before getting into my opinion on the matter, I thought I’d share the stories that neither side is fighting to have ownership of. They’re just plain ugly. Really, this category could be renamed to “People putting fidget spinners where they shouldn’t go.” First, I saw a news story of a man being rushed to hospital after after lodging one in his anus (The question is not why, but how). On a likely related note, there have been reports that the term “fidget spinner” has become a popular search term on Pornhub (I did not verify this myself). On the less extreme side, women have had miniature fidget spinners made as nail art with their manicures, and I saw a disturbing image of a man with a fidget spinner on his tooth. Some people are just too weird.

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My Opinion

Honestly, I don’t care a great deal about whether the fidget spinner itself is good or bad. I have no idea whether schools should or should not ben this toy. I don’t even know why kids think this toy is any better than all the other ones.

What I do know is that this schoolyard trend has opened a door that has allowed the public to talk about ADHD, autism, and anxiety in a way that we haven’t done for a while. It’s helped these kids fit in – if only for a little while.

What I do know is that kids who need to fidget – kids with ADHD, autism, anxiety and the like – have suffered through “decades of emotional punishment, physical violence, and other abuses”. They’ve been tied down, had their tools confiscated and been made to behave like neurotypical people in a way that they shouldn’t need to. And then suddenly fidgeting is the cool thing to do, something that neurotypical people want to, and then fidgeting is suddenly okay? This is not fair, not right, not just. It just goes to show the disability discrimination still in the world today, so well rationalised and hidden that so many people don’t even realise.

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What I do know is that the moment this phase is over, the world will probably go back to just the way it was before. The outcast kids will return to the side-lines of the playground, return to being lonely and “uncool”.

“Children with additional needs often struggle to fit in and be the cool kids, and it was really nice to see a toy that they have that everybody else wants. But if they get banned except for children who are on a list, then that stigma gets reintroduced.” – Dr Amanda Gummer

How about we – as adults – teach our kids, nieces, nephews, mentees, that disability discrimination is not okay. How about we – as academics – find ways to combat disability discrimination once and for all. How about we – as human beings – make people feel loved, welcomed, appreciated. It’s just the right thing to do.

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