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Jun 09, 2017

The Spin on the Fidget Spinner

For at least one pediatric specialist, the toy of the moment—the fidget spinner—has its pluses and its minuses, but they all add up to one thing:  “The device is not a replacement for evidence-based occupational or behavioral therapy.”

Alok Patel, MD, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a critical care pediatrician at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian in New York City, provided his views on fidget spinners in a Medscape blog post published June 5.

“Physicians, we all know that it's important to understand what medical research or innovations your patients are interested in,” Patel wrote. “Now, I'm a pediatrician and my patient population is a little different, but the recent medical breakthrough that they're all about is the fidget spinner.”

“Unless you live on a deserted island, you've probably heard of them by now,” he wrote, noting that: “Fidget spinners are touted as a breakthrough for children with ADHD, autism, anxiety, and stress, and manufacturers claim that they improve focus and concentration.”

The blog post addresses the issue of the fidget spinner as a focusing tool and mentions studies on motor activity and potential improvements in working memory or cognitive performance published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology and in Child Neuropsychology. Patel’s write-up also provides insights from some of the parents of his patients who use the toys with their autistic children. 

“Even though they are really cool and flashy, there are hidden safety risks,” Patel warned. “Those bearings are not delicious little donuts; they can get lodged in a child’s throat. Parents need to be smart about these just as with any other toy.”

Many educators—who by the end of the school year had drawers full of spinners confiscated from youngsters who were distracting, and sometimes nearly injuring, classmates with the toys—may be relieved to see that Patel does not consider it helpful for students to bring fidget spinners into the classroom. 

Other educators, however, think the devices can help some students at school. In a Healthline blog post published June 2, special education professional Rebekah Poe shared the story of a student with severe ADHD and behavior problems, the fidget spinner she bought for him, and the way his classmates reacted to the fidget spinner in the classroom.

“After a few days, the ‘newness’ of the spinner wore off,” she said in the blog post. “The other students didn’t seem interested in it anymore. In fact, they eventually realized the importance of it for their fellow classmate.”

Poe pointed out, though, that not everyone should bring a fidget spinner to school. 

“I would encourage parents to think about the needs of their child before letting him or her carry one to school,” she said. “If there is not a legitimate behavioral concern that a fidget spinner might help solve, do not bring it to school.”

Poe encouraged parents to talk with a child’s teacher before sending the toy into the classroom with a youngster.

If you’re interested in the path the fidget spinner took to get to its spot at the top of the current lists of best-selling toys, The New York Times recently published a time line of events in fidget spinner history.

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