The rise – and inevitable classroom banning – of fidget spinners has inspired conversation about the value of sensory stimulation techniques, and the true difference between a “fidget” and a “toy”.
What is the difference, and how can you find the best option for your child? This post aims to answer these questions through the “Who, What, When, Where, and Why” of sensory tools and related strategies.
Did you know that the original intention of the Torqbar (similar to a fidget spinner) was to provide a sensory distraction for its inventor so he could focus during meetings and conference calls? Although we’re discussing the best options for children, many adults have sensory needs too. No matter your age, fidgets and other sensory stimulation strategies are intended to give the body a point of focus, so the brain can attend to other stimuli.
There is one major difference between a child who can benefit from a sensory toy and a child who needs a different intervention: the benefitting child will not treat the toy as a toy. (As you can imagine, this was a huge factor in the plight of fidget spinners.)
There are countless tools that serve this purpose. Some of the most common recommendations I have seen among my colleagues include stress balls, wiggle seats, and bouncy bands. These and many other items can be found online or you can even make them yourself to keep costs low (such as sticking the soft side of velcro on the underside of a desk or table).
Teacher/Parent Tip: It is best to teach your child about the item beforehand. Modeling how it’s used and discussing when to use will set him or her up for success, and will also help you figure out whether the tool in question is the best way to go.
When and Where
In school settings, fidgets are most useful when students need to keep their mental focus on other people or things. Children can benefit from this stimulation while reading or being read to; during lessons, especially when teachers are giving instructions; and in a variety of other situations where it is important to decrease the body’s tendency to seek out stimulation by proactively providing it. Fidgets can be used outside of school while doing homework; while waiting for others to finish a meal; at a performance or movie; or in a variety of other settings.
It’s useful to explore your child’s experiences through his or her perspective. Is your child getting in trouble at school for reasons that include phrases such as “not paying attention”, “getting up without asking”, “not following directions”, or “being disruptive”? These issues can have a multitude of causes, but for students who crave sensory stimulation (with or without a formal diagnosis), getting to the root of these behaviors is crucial.
If this post resonates with you, why not open up the conversation with school staff to share your comments, concerns, questions, and ideas? As with most other parental situations, it is best to maintain patience and communication while you find the right option for your child.
Best of luck in your search!
Written by: Carissa Latona, Special Ed Teacher
Edited & Designed by: Christina Denham
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.