Sometimes We All Need a Little Bit of "Fidgeting"

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

For those of us in the realm of sensory therapy, the word “fidget” has been part of our vocabulary long before fidget spinners became the latest craze. Very often, as occupational therapists, we have looked at establishing sensory diets that include the use of hand fidgets. Fidgets are known to be items, typically small toys, that individuals use to keep their hands “busy” in order to help them maintain focus and attention as well as decrease anxiety. They are often used by children in the classroom, during homework, or even out in the community at places such as church or in a store. Common fidgets include stress balls, tactile cubes, Tangles, or rubber stretchy toys. These items have been known to help keep children who demonstrate difficulty with self-regulation during class or have difficulty waiting during transitions to maintain better connection in the classroom through active listening.

Today it seems as if you cannot be anywhere without hearing the word “fidget” spinner or cube. These items are the latest craze across the nation in all types of schools and with children as young as kindergarten up to high school. However, because of the craze, we are finding many schools banning them because they are being used as just a toy and seen as a distraction. But what does that really mean for many of the students?

In essence, we almost all need to do a bit of fidgeting to keep our attention and focus. For many adults, fidgeting comes in the form of doodling, shaking our leg, clicking a pen, or even oral fidgeting, such as chewing on a pen cap or piece of gum. These all seem like appropriate ways to sit through that meeting at work. However, very often, students are required to sit and fully attend. Unless a child is identified with needing additional sensory inputs in the classroom, fidgeting with their pencils or their bodies or chewing on things is often frowned upon. Many times, older students are corrected to “pay attention” when found doodling on their folder. In reality, for many, these habits are not a sign of boredom, but a way for students to do active listening.

Maybe this craze in fidget spinners is truly one about popularity, but it can also be seen as a way for many children to realize they need to feed their sensory systems a little bit differently, even in terms of anxiety. Having a way to keep their hands moving helps many students get through speaking out an answer or giving a presentation in class. Therefore, this may be a good time to help identify more ideal hand, and even mouth, fidgets for the classroom.

Some ideal hand fidgets include:

• Stress or squeeze balls
• Small rubber, stretchy items such as frogs
• Water tubes
• Pulling tape off the desk
• Rubbing fingers across the loop side of Velcro® stuck to the desk
• Small smooth items such as marbles
• Pencil-top fidgets
• Wikki Stix®
• Tangles
• Nuts and bolts
• A few snap blocks or LEGOs® to put together and take apart
• Putty

In addition, we have often found mouth fidgets to be successful in achieving focus and attention, especially during test taking.

Some ideal ones include:

• Chew tubes or “chewelry”
• Gum
• Suckers
• Pencil-top chew items

Overall, fidgets can be a positive addition to the classroom setting. So let’s join the craze and figure out how to pull in a bit a fidgeting!