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Because family life matters

Fidgeting just got cool

When I was at school we were regularly told, “Be still. Sit up straight. Hands in your laps.”

Not so any more. Forget marbles, Top Trumps and loombands. The latest craze is a fidget spinner. These palm-sized toys have become the latest “must-have” for almost every schoolchild in the country.

These ‘toys’ were originally developed as a way for children with ADHD or autism to relieve stress and help maintain focus. According to the Journal of Integrative Psychological and Behavioural Science, ‘stimming’ (full medical term self-stimulatory behaviours) is a repeated movement thought to relieve stress or provide psychological focus for that individual. Some ‘stimmers’ find it helpful to jump or rock or squeeze or flap. It helps with concentration, releases pent up energy and is soothing.

A point of focus, like a toy or other object, can help centre someone with autism, and sensory toys are often integrated into intervention therapies for autistic children.

At last, a craze that makes children on the autistic spectrum the trail blazers, the cool kids, the leaders, the role models. HOORAY!

But hang on a minute, before you get too excited, I should tell you that it is not that straight forward. Some believe that in the mainstream classroom these toys are more of a distraction than an aid to concentration. One psychologist recently claimed that it was just a lot of ‘spin’ by toy manufacturers! Some schools have banned fidget spinners because their pupils are more inspired to learn new tricks from their peers than they are to learn new facts from their teachers and though individually the noise is almost inaudible, twenty five plus all spinning at once in a classroom most certainly is not.

A mum whose son is on the autistic spectrum thought it was brilliant that other kids had them because he wouldn’t have to answer any questions or feel awkward using it. However, now that they’re being banned in schools things could get worse for him.

I recently attended a training event, to help churches improve their welcome and provision for families with children with additional needs. One of the very practical suggestions was to provide a ‘fiddle box’ or small basket with a few tactile (silent) ‘toys’ to be passed round to all the children if they were to be required to sit still and listen for ten minutes or so. Simple, safe, cheap things that soothe busy minds and keep restless fingers occupied. The toys are replaced in the box before a return to more active learning.

If you have other ideas or suggestions for ways that make life more fun for children with additional needs, please get in touch.

Incidentally, a new range of ‘fidget spinners’ has been invented for stressed-out office workers who might otherwise drive colleagues mad with nail biting, foot tapping or endless pen-clicking. Perhaps we can offer them fiddle boxes too?