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Fidgets: Are they a helpful tool?

Most of us know someone who can't seem to stop moving. They click their pen, chomp gum, twirl their hair, tap their food, shift in their seat or doodle. For some people, like children diagnosed with autism, or ADHD, excessive movement seeking—or repetitive movements—is often a characteristic of the diagnosis. Fidgets have become a popular option for people who need extra movement.   

A fidget is an object that helps cope with restlessness, anxiety and keeps the body still while allowing for movement through the hands. The goal is to keep the hands busy so the eyes and ears can pay attention.  

Research shows fidgets can be helpful for students with attention concerns, but they are not helpful for everyone. Individual needs should be considered despite age, diagnosis and current school trends. Care should be taken in choosing the right fidget for the user. Some fidgets are successful tools to help the user focus and attend better, while others appear to be more of a toy to be "played with," making them more of a distraction than a tool. Here are some helpful hints in choosing a fidget: 

  • Fidgets should be used without being seen or heard. Noisy or light up fidgets are distracting. Even a quiet hum can be a disruption if used in a room full of testing students. The purpose of a fidget is to give children an outlet for excess energy so they can focus better. If it's distracting it's working opposite your goals.
  • Fidgets should be able to be used without looking at them. If a child needs to watch the fidget in order to use it, it's distracting from what he or she should be attending to.
  • Test several fidgets and watch how your child attends after the novelty has worn off. Is this something your child can manipulate while still focusing on the task?
  • Set up rules for when your child is allowed to have the fidget and where it should be kept when not in use.

Fidgets can be a useful tool when used correctly by children who need them. The good news is fidgets don't have to be a specifically bought "tool"—any small item will do, including:

  • stress ball
  • wad of silly putty
  • pencil gripper
  • rubber band
  • strip of fabric or anything else that can be stretched, squeezed, pinched or moved in the hands

One of my favorite fidgets is an easy, cheap, do-it-yourself version of a stress ball you can make out of two balloons and either rice or flour to fill. Instructions for this style fidget can be found on various websites, and it takes just a few minutes to make.

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