Spinners May be Cool, But These Fidgets Don't Belong in School

They're doing more harm than good.

Fidgets have long been known to help kids with special needs regulate and focus. The spinner has brought the fidget into the mainstream, and it's selling out all over North America. Kids with and without special needs want them.

You'd think, as a parent to a child diagnosed with both autism and ADHD, I'd be all over this cool little gizmo with great spinning action. But you'd be mistaken.

My son does, in fact, own a blue spinner (thanks Nan!) and their appeal is not lost on me. Sturdy and small enough to take anywhere, spinners would be perfect for waiting rooms and car rides. Unfortunately, they don't belong in school any more than any Pokémon trading cards or Shopkins, or even cell phones for that matter...

Schools in the States have already effected a blanket ban of spinners, and Canada will (hopefully) follow suit.

Riled teachers and principals fully have my support on this one. Popularity is part of the problem. With kids inevitably coveting and trading spinners, arguments are bound to break out. Not least of which, can you just imagine a classroom where half a dozen ​or so of these gadgets are whirling at any one time?

Visually and audibly, spinners are immensely distracting to both students trying to concentrate and teachers trying to teach. This defeats the entire point of a fidget—to give a student sensory input (movement, oral, visual) without calling too much attention to itself or its user. 

Though my son has never taken his spinner to school, I have sent other necklace-type fidgets with him in the past. Inevitably, the other kids in his class took great interest in things like colourful tangles. And my son spent most of the time pulling apart the links, so distracted by the tangle that the teacher ended up removing it from him anyway. Teachers need to pick their battles, and I don't want to create new ones for them!

Many fidgets out there cause more harm then good. It takes a clued up occupational therapist to identify the specific needs of the child and suggest a fidget that will provide the maximum amount of sensory input with the minimum amount of distraction. The most effective fidgets or sensory tools, in my opinion at least, are those that don't involve "toys" or gadgets per se.

Chewable pencil ends, regular movement breaks (wall push-ups, a trip to the water fountain or to deliver a paper to the office), paper to doodle on while listening to a lesson, etc., can prove really effective when worked into the child's IEP.

Removing all spinners from school is not intended to punish students who genuinely benefit from fidgets. These kids do exist, and their needs are wholly legitimate. But parents, teachers and OTs must find creative ways for kids to gain input that aren't ​so ​conspicuous or distracting. Fun as they may be, spinners just don't tick that box.

RELATED: Does Your Child Have ADHD (Or Is He Just Being A Kid)?

As an established parenting writer and a trusted voice within the autism community, Julie M Green is a freelance writer and featured blogger at Huffington Post and Yummy Mummy Club. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including Today's Parent, Globe and Mail and Parents Canada. ​She lives in Toronto with her Irish hubby, a crazy bulldog, and an amazing 8-year-old son with autism.