May 16, 2017 12:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

I have a 7-year-old daughter. That means that, for the past few weeks, every time I am with her I am subjected to the high-pitched whine of a small spinning toy. The only time the whining whir of the toy stops is when I am listening to it clatter to the ground as she drops it. Yes, she is the proud owner of a “fidget spinner” just like almost every child in the U.S. 

I fell for the hype that this toy, which seems to be sold everywhere now, can somehow help her focus in school and get rid of excess energy. I probably should have gotten the opinions of people other than a trend-obsessed child and a 7-Eleven clerk anxious to make a sale.

“There is no hard evidence to suggest fidget spinners can help with focus,” said Cindy Gellner, MD, a pediatrician with University of Utah Health. “There haven’t been scientific studies on these toys.”

The lack of any studies isn’t stopping the makers of the toys from marketing them to parents worried about focus – and especially to parents of children with ADHD or other conditions. Reviews of the toys online say they are effective in helping with anxiety, ADHD, autism, and PTSD among other concerns. For someone looking for answers, fidget spinners can seem like a great one – for less than $15. “A lot of parents want something, anything, that can help their child stop fidgeting, even if their child hasn’t been diagnosed with ADHD,” said Gellner. “The kids all try to get their parents to buy them because their friends have them, so there is peer pressure as well. It’s the cool thing to have right now.”

However, they may actually cause more problems. Kids may find themselves focusing more on the toy than the lesson at hand. And, in kids who do have ADHD or other behavioral concerns, there may be additional issues. “The kids also seem to become obsessed with them outside of school, their world revolves around the toy, and if it gets lost or broken, you’re going to have an outburst on your hands,” said Gellner. “Kids with ADHD tend to have impulse control issues and losing a fidget spinner can lead to a meltdown.”

Instead of looking for a quick fix when it comes to focus, parents and teachers should work together to develop a plan for a student having problems. This plan should be well structured, with tasks broken into manageable pieces, limited distractions, and clear expectations for behavior. Parents may also want to consider seeking help from a medical professional. “Most kids who have true ADHD are being managed by medications, which can really help a child reach their full potential in school by helping balance their brain chemistry,” said Gellner.

“Don’t expect it to be a miracle cure for your child’s ADHD,” Gellner added. “Also, know that these toys break easily, and be prepared to be annoyed by the whirring sound.  Even the ‘silent’ ones aren’t silent.”

I know that all too well now.

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