Dancing Fingers

I’ve always been a fidgety person. Maybe it’s just pent-up anxiety or some form of ADD (I’m not about to self-diagnose myself), but I’m not someone known for sitting still. My foot or leg is always bobbing around. Sitting in a chair that doesn’t rock or swing feels wrong.

And, if you haven’t guessed by the title, I always have to be doing something with my hands. It’s probably why I rely on my phone often when I have nothing else nearby. Why I hate eating without some crossword or Sudoku puzzle to do. Why finger and toe nails are…rough, to say the least without grossing everybody out. Why in class, it’s my nails, my notebooks, even my skin that is a means of me having a little relief.

I know I’m not alone on this. I cannot remember how many times in class someone would complain about others clicking their pens. It’s why fidget toys have become so popular. Whether it’s a cube or spinner, they’re the new hot thing for anxious, hyperactive, and autistic students to ease some nerves and keep those kids on track. I go as far as to say that they can necessary for some people as reading glasses or hearing aids to achieve their fullest potential. Heck, I’m an adult and I still have a tub of “thinking putty” somewhere that I play with constantly.

Except now there are school districts completely banning these toys in the classroom, saying that they’re too distracting to others. Since they are now “all the rage,” everybody is buying and using them, even those who don’t necessarily need it, but have some peer pressure to not feel left out. Not a bad phenomenon for kids who need a fidget toy but might be self-conscious being the only one using something.

I completely understand why schools are taking a stance on fidget spinners similar to cell phones: they can be distracting. They lose their efficiency if everybody is just devoted to spinning plastic between their fingers. Spinners can easily become a commodity that others pass under tables or steal like packs of gum. But at the same time, it deprives students who truly benefit from that stimulation.

The immense popularity of fidget toys brings up another point of discussion for a healthy educational environment. Primary education has taken a very dire direction since my time in school. Very limited (even nonexistent) recess periods. Increased focus upon standardized test scores and standards. Less extracurricular activities at the elementary level like P.E. and arts and crafts. I never had a kid in my class who took medication for ADHD, but now it’s very common. Add in the factor of better diagnosis and treatment options for students, but the increased number of ADHD cases surely doesn’t benefit from long hours sitting at a desk, paying attention to lessons only taught for test scores.

What would happen if instead of toys, we saw these fidget-tamers as tools, reframing the conversation into one that is normal aspect of the classroom setting. Again, just like glasses or hearing aids. Touch is another sensory function, just like sight and sound. If a student is experiencing sensory difficulties that affect their lives, we provide options for alleviating them.

Scientific research further proves the benefits of fidget tools. Julie Schweitzer, a clinical psychologist at the MIND Institute at the University of California at Davis, has been studying ADHD for 25 years. Her 2015 study, published in the journal Child Neuropsychology, measured the impact of fidgeting on cognition among a group of children ages 10 to 17. Her work revealed that students with ADHD performed better on a computerized attention test the more intensely they fidgeted. Meanwhile, typical children did not improve their test score with fidgeting. So not everybody needs to run out for a little spinner, but those who have behavior issues or hyperactivity should take advantage of this opportunity when fidget-related items are readily available.

I don’t know enough to say that schools can screen for those who need fidget tools. I don’t necessarily have full-blown autism or ADHD, but I cannot even type this blog post without taking breaks to pick at a fingernail and fidget my foot the entire time. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like any other ban, people sneak around the rule and end up using fidget tools anyways. Just because we make something harder to use doesn’t mean people will stop using them. We just have to figure out how to regulate them in the classroom, having rules like any other aspect of the school day. Fidget tools may even provide a great foundation for teachers to openly discuss the purpose they serve for some students.

And hopefully we can provide more options that might be more classroom-friendly and less distracting to others. Again, I love having putty or Play-Doh. Stress balls are a classic, except they probably aren’t as stimulating necessarily. How people respond to certain fidget tools is unique. If the school system continues going in the direction it currently is, we cannot avoid to ban something helpful. For some people, yes, they are equivalent to cell phones. But you cannot discount those who rely on fidget tools for comfort and stimulation. Kids and people in general are not robots that can all operate the same way under the same conditions. We cannot expect out of ourselves or others. So if somebody needs to use a tool or technique for fidgeting that doesn’t bother or harm anybody else, for goodness sake, let them spin to their heart’s content.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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