Fidget spinners: Helpful or harmful for focus?

Fidget spinners have taken hold recently with everyone from children to adults across the nation as the newest craze to help with focus. These mesmerizing spinning pieces roll around bearings, but can we say they’re helping?

Children love playing with them and some have said that it allows them to focus better. Teachers aren’t so convinced with their ability to help students stay on task, and many schools have started banning them. This hasn’t kept sellers from claiming that fidget spinners are everyday tools, especially for those with ADHD and attention issues. Although it seems little research has been done on the use of fidget devices, we wanted to take a dive to see if we could learn anything from what we do know about fidgeting and executive cognitive functioning.

Mark Rapport, a University of Central Florida clinical psychologist and ADHD researcher, told a Vox reporter he assumed, “[u]sing a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” as it takes away attention from tasks. His research, instead, shows that more full body movement—like cycling or running—engages the areas in the brain that aid focusing.

Meanwhile, Dr. Pilar Trelles, MD, a psychiatrist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, suggested to Health.com that “when someone is hypersensitive to the environment they might bite their nails, pull out their cuticles, or pinch their skin.” While these fidget spinners are a healthier alternative to expel energy, she notes that they are not a therapy and should not replace other recommendations.


Check out this family’s reaction to fidget spinners.

Especially when we consider the spectrum of differences experienced by people with ADHD, autism, and anxiety, we can assume that fidget spinners are likely to have different effects on different individuals. In fact, a pilot study with middle school students suggests that limited intervention of a stress ball might in fact help decrease distractions and increase grades during lessons for those with ADHD while not offering much help, and potentially increasing distractions, for typical students.

It appears that while these popular fidget spinners might be a solution for some people to explore, they might only be a fun (or distracting) toy for others. The best option may be to test out various accommodations and coping mechanism and see what works for your particular situation. Ultimately, if a solution shows promise in the areas we want to improve—such as focus, calmness, and impulse control—there’s no harm in trying it out.

What do you think about fidget spinners? Are they helpful or a nuisance? Let us know in the comments or reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter!