Fidgets for Kids with ADHD

Fidgets for Kids with ADHD

By: Molly Hankla, MA, BCBA

Seemingly overnight, fidget toys have gone from virtually non-existent to just about everywhere and in every way, shape, or form. But what are these fidgets? Are they toys or can they actually help therapeutically?

First, let’s answer what a fidget, or fidget toy actually is. In short, a fidget is anything small that you can manipulate in your fingers or hands. Some fidgets might be fashioned into toys like pop-its, fidget cubes, spinners, or mesh marble fidgets. Other kids may fashion their own fidgets out of paper, a retractable pen, necklace, or hair tie. Some fidgets may be more or less appropriate than others. For example, clicking a silent button on the side of a fidget cube is going to be more appropriate than clicking a pen loudly in class, and manipulating a mesh marble is more appropriate than tearing up the edges of a worksheet or taking the battery cover off the back of a remote.

Now that we know what fidgets are, let’s talk about how fidgets can be helpful. Many children who have ADHD or anxiety, and those who are just “wiggly,” will tend to naturally fidget with items that are easily accessible. Ideally, a fidget can be used as the designated item to manipulate. Emerging research indicates that using appropriate fidgets can help kids reign in their wiggles, pay better attention during academic time, and reduce disruption or destructive behaviors as well.

So how can we determine which fidget is best out of all of the options out there? No single fidget is going to be the best for every child, and it may take a little experimentation to determine which fidget might be best for your kiddo. Here are some factors to consider when evaluating different fidget options for your child:

  1. Form and Function – What is your child currently using to fidget with? There may be a more appropriate fidget toy to use that is similar in form or function that you can easily swap. Mesh marble fidgets are a great alternative to battery covers, pen clicking, and paper ball rolling. Stress balls are a good alternative to hand tapping or moving items on a tabletop. Tangles or worm fidgets are a great option to replace hair twirling, rubber band/hair-tie manipulation, or playing with necklaces.
  2. Increasing Attention – When your child is using a fidget, check to see if it is helping your child pay attention more to instruction or an activity. If you’re noticing that your child is paying more attention to the fidget than to the activity, that may be a better option as a fun toy rather than a helpful fidget.
  3. Decreasing Disruption – The use of the fidget should be non-disruptive itself. If using the fidget is making loud noises in a quiet environment, that fidget may have to be saved for play time or louder environments. For example, while fidget spinners may be a lot of fun, they often make a lot of noise while they spin, or often fall onto desks or the floor, causing more disruption. On the other hand, many fidgets, like pop-its, can be silent and replace other disruptive behaviors like pen-clicking.
  4. Active Engagement – Finally, is your child actually using the fidget? If your child isn’t interested in the fidget or isn’t actively engaging with it to help them concentrate or engage more, then it’s not a good choice. You’ll want to find a fidget that your child enjoys using and is likely to pick up independently.

For more information about how you can help support your child, check out our blog “8 Teaching Strategies for Children Who Learn Differently.” If you’d like more information about how other kiddos with ADHD may operate differently from their peers, check out “Time Estimation in ADHD” and “Impulsivity in Children with ADHD.

Like all of our practitioners, Molly uses many books with our kids in session. She highly recommends, “Phonics Patrol: 12 Steps to Reading,” to help your child become a more confident reader. In the 12 Step Into Reading series, there is sure to be a character your child already loves, so it’s an effective way to pair something they already enjoy with a skill they need to develop. We’re proud to be working with Bookshop to recommend our favorite books. If you use our link to make your purchase, we receive a percentage of your purchase total, which we use to buy more books to use in session with our kiddos! Win-win!

References:

Jackie Andrade. 2010. What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology 24, 1 (2010), 100–106.

John Cloud. 2009. Better Learning Through Fidgeting. (2009).

Stephen Garger. 1990. Is there a link between learning style and neurophysiology. Educational Leadership 48, 2 (1990), 63–65.

Malia F Mason, Michael I Norton, John D Van Horn, Daniel M Wegner, Scott T Grafton, and C Neil Macrae. 2007. Wandering minds: the default network and stimulus-independent thought. Science 315, 5810 (2007), 393–395.

Donald Slater and Jean French. 2010. Fidget toys in the classroom: refocusing attention. (2010).

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