Are fidget spinners a good distraction?

What will become of spinners in the 2017-18 school year remains uncertain
By: | June 28, 2017

Whirling fidget spinners invaded classrooms across the country this past spring, but with many schools banning them as a distraction, their future as a potential remedy for students with attention difficulties is in doubt.

Classroom impact

Teachers from districts including Mt. Pleasant City School District in Michigan and Catawba County Schools in North Carolina, were supportive of fidget spinners, according to online publications, but increasingly school leaders are banning the toys from classrooms because they have become too much of a distraction.

In one case, Todd Clinton, a special education teacher at Upperman Middle School in the Putnam County School District in Tennessee, was excited about fidget spinners helping his students, so he posted the benefits on social media.

But after a few weeks, rather than using them as intended, students brought spinners to class and traded them with friends, took them apart, and stole other students’ spinners, says Clinton. “I feel like behavior at school with kids using spinners is to get attention and we need to replace that behavior with something else” he says.

As a special ed teacher, Clinton teaches alternatives to students to avoid restlessness, such as tapping fingers.

Proponents of spinners, such as The Fidget Spinner Association, which has led efforts to prevent schools from banning the devices, say that manipulating the small hand-held toy increases attention spans, decreases distracting thoughts and can be especially helpful for students with attention deficits.

According to a 2015 study in A Journal on Normal and Abnormal Development in Childhood and Adolescence, students with ADHD self-regulate alertness by moving or “fidgeting” to attain peak cognitive performance.

About 6.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Future for spinners

It’s difficult to predict what will become of spinners when the 2017-18 school year starts. “The fad aspect of it really caught everyone by surprise and I think schools and teachers really had to take more of a reactionary approach” says Aubrey Torres, assistant professor of education at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

It’s unfortunate when spinners get banned outright because they have been helpful, she says. “I worry about the message it sends to those with ADHD” Torres adds. She says spinners are helpful for both students with ADHD and those without because anyone can get restless in a classroom environment.

Amanda Martinez is a student intern.

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