Some teachers and parents love them; others loathe them.
Fidget spinners are toy-like devices that sit on a ball bearing and spin easily on your hand or a hard surface. By keeping your hands busy, they are supposed to ease stress, manage fidgeting and help people with ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder) focus. Prices range from as little as a dollar to several hundred for the more elaborate designs.
Matthew Lorber, MD, a child psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, says many parents of children with ADHD are asking his opinion about the popular toy and how it works. He shared the most common questions he hears with WebMD.
How might fidget spinners help?
Lorber: If you are trying to focus on a task, but your hands are busy doing something else, it actually forces your brain to increase your efforts to focus on the task at hand. That’s how an ADHD mind works.
The prefrontal cortex is the ‘office manager’ of the brain. That part of the brain in those with ADHD has become ineffective in organizing information, inefficient in focusing.
If they are playing with a fidget spinner, or tapping with a pen or a pencil, it automatically forces their brain to work harder. The brain has to put more effort into not being distracted.
People with ADHD who tend to be hyperactive—not all are—would have the most benefit from fidget spinners. They have excess energy to begin with. It gives them an outlet to get that fidgety-ness out of their body.
Is there any research backing fidget spinners?
Lorber: There have been some small scale studies that show people with ADHD do better on tasks if given some sort of outlet to get out their energy, to distract their hands. While fidget spinners specifically haven’t been studied, there have been studies that have shown in general that someone with ADHD with something to fidget with — such as tapping a pen — perform better on tasks.
Lorber: There’s not really a negative side effect to trying it. The only side effect here is distracting other people around you. Potentially a fidget spinner could be used to decrease the need for ADHD medication, to take a lower dose.
I think it’s worth a try.