Recently, we have seen a rise in the craze of ‘fidget toys.’ All of a sudden, it seems as though every child in every classroom ‘desperately needs’ a fidget toy! But, are fidget toys really beneficial for kids, or are they just another way for children to become distracted in the classroom?
The answer is, YES. They are helpful! Especially for children who struggle with sensory integration. Sensory integration is the term used to describe the way the brain organises sensations that an individual experiences within their environment. When an individual has sensory integration, they can:
- Receive or take in sensory stimuli
- Interpret the stimuli
- Process the stimuli into a response; and
- Adaptively respond to the stimuli
The sensory system takes information from the environment through the senses: touch, smell, sound, vision, taste, movement and gravity. It processes or interprets these sensations together to make sense of the environment.
Consequently, this sensory integration process lays the foundation for efficient operation of the nervous system and other parts of the body that respond to the signals sent by the nervous system. The child consequently responds to these sensory inputs and makes appropriate responses to perform skills required.
Children who have difficulties with sensory integration, are often diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological disorder that causes difficulties with processing information across our five senses: vision, auditory, touch, olfaction, and taste. In addition, some individuals have difficulties with the sense of movement (via the vestibular system) or the positional sense (proprioception). Individuals who have SPD perceive sensory information differently. This means that they receive the information normally from their environment, but the way that this information if processed by the brain is abnormal, resulting in distress, discomfort, and irritation. Consequently, learning can be extremely difficult for children with SPD. Furthermore, the irritation and anxiety that results due to sensory overload makes coping difficult for children with SPD, resulting in more behavioural outbursts than would be considered ‘typical’ for their age. SPD is extremely common in children who have ASD and/or ADHD, however, can present on its own without a dual diagnosis.
So, how do fidget items help these kids? Research has shown us that physical activity, even as small as foot tapping, chewing, or fiddling, increases the frequency of neurotransmitters (neural arousal) in the brain that are responsible for focus and attention. Research has also shown a correlation between working with our hands (i.e., fiddling/fidgeting) and increased memory and creativity. That is, fidgeting helps people better process and retain information.
One study conducted in 2005 found that children who were given permission to fidget during class time learned more quickly than those who were not given permission to fidget. Some examples of popular and effective fidget toys include fidget spinners, stress balls, yarn that can be knotted, and so on. Less effective fidget toys include slime (not to be mistaken for theraputty), as slime often gets stuck on our hands, clothes, and work, taking complete focus from the task at hand.
Furthermore, children who struggle with sustained attention, including those with ADHD/ASD/SPD, require movement to increase their alertness, help them stay tuned into the lesson at hand, and assist them with cognitive tasks by occupying the parts of their brain that might otherwise be distracted by extraneous stimuli. For some children, fidgeting might even be a form of calming ritual (or ‘stimming’ for ASD children), which can help comfort and ground them when they are overly stimulated by their environment, by providing predictability, routine, familiarity, and structure.
So, although often considered an old wives’ tale, for many children, fidgeting is paramount to their learning! For these children, fidget breaks or fidget items should be used frequently throughout the school day, to ensure sustained attention. The obvious note here is to ensure that the fidget item is not overly distracting to other members of the classroom. That’s where my new fidget items come into play. I have recently added a number of fidget items to the online store and have included items that cover a range of ages, from kindergarten to high school, and even the workplace! These items are classroom appropriate and proven to be effective in encouraging sustained attention and processing. I’ve purposefully stocked items that can be used with a variety of age groups in a range of settings, meaning everyone from pre-schoolers to adults are covered by these fidget items!
Check out the links below to find out more!
To purchase the Fidget Pen, click here: https://www.theplayfulpsychologist.com/product-page/fidget-pens
To purchase the Fidget Spinner Stylus Pen, click here: https://www.theplayfulpsychologist.com/product-page/fidget-spinner-stylus-pens
To purchase an Edamame Key Ring, click here: https://www.theplayfulpsychologist.com/product-page/the-edamame-fidget
For more information on Sensory Processing Disorder, check out the ASD/ADHD/ODD/SPD Resource Guide by clicking here: https://www.theplayfulpsychologist.com/product-page/resource-guide-asd-adhd-odd-and-sensory-processing-disorder