Do fidget spinners actually help people with ADHD?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll already know that one of the latest fads gripping the nation is the Fidget Spinner. They come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, but the most common is a three pronged shape with an axle in the middle that allows you to spin it. Repeatedly. That’s it. That’s all it does.

Here’s an example:

Hours of endless entertainment!

Like any fad, it didn’t take long before some folks making these things started to make a lot of claims about how they were more than just a pointless toy. They could help you with a number of conditions including ADHD, autism, and anxiety.

I’ve discussed the fact that I have ADHD many times in the past and one of the ways it manifests for me is through fidgeting. When I am focusing on something (like writing a blog entry) I tend to bounce my knee a lot or I’ll wiggle the heel of my foot (like I’m doing now). If I’m standing up and engaging in conversation with someone it’s not uncommon for my right hand to be in my jeans pocket fiddling with a USB flash drive cap or fondling coins. So something like this could potentially appeal to me, but I’m skeptical of the claims being made and it turns out many psychologists are as well:

“Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” said Mark Rapport, a clinical psychologist at the University of Central Florida who has studied the benefits of movement on attention in people with ADHD.

There haven’t been any studies done to establish whether the claims are true or not. So the folks at BuzzFeed decided to give some spinners to employees with ADHD for a week and see what they thought. This is not in any way a scientific study, but it’s interesting just the same:

So it seems it’s of some benefit to some people, but probably not life changing in any way. One person reports that it helped more with her anxiety than it did with her ability to focus her attention. Overall this supports the idea that the claims are overblown, but, again, it’s not exactly a rigorous study.

Personally, I don’t think it would work for me because it’s too busy and would be more of a distraction because it would be pulling my attention away from what I need to be focusing on. It might be a way to alleviate boredom, but all that motion would easily be my undoing.

That said, I’ve given serious thought to buying a Fidget Cube. These are more along the lines of what I already do when I continuously pop the cap on and off the flash drive in my pocket. This is a small cube of plastic with a number of things on it to enable fidgeting such as a rocker switch, a combo dial like you’d find on luggage, a small ball bearing that spins in a socket, and so on. None of them do a damned thing other than give your hands something to do. More importantly for me, none of them are so visually stimulating that I’d be tempted to look at it yet would still supply tactile feedback. The folks who came up with this idea had a Kickstarter project for it a couple of years back that was very successful. Needless to say, just like with fidget spinners, there are already hundreds of knockoffs.

Here’s the YouTube ad they put out to promote it:

As you can see, this is the sort of thing you could keep in your pocket, but even if you take it out it’s less likely to distract everyone around you than a fidget spinner. Again, there’s no evidence that this would necessarily improve my (or anyone else’s) ability to focus our attention, but at least I wouldn’t be wearing out the caps to my USB flash drives.

The one drawback to the Fidget Cube over a Fidget Spinner is that you can’t do wicked sick tricks with the cube:

Bonus video from Ice Cream Sandwich:

What about you guys? Any of you give into this fad and pick one up? If so, do you feel it helps with focusing your attention or do you just like to spin for the sake of spinning?


3 thoughts on “Do fidget spinners actually help people with ADHD?

  1. I have made a number of them in our 3D printing lab. For some reason it’s kind of satisfying to have it sitting there on the table and give it a spin. And I find that people using the lab take on off the example shelves and fiddle with it while using the computers.

    Mostly it gave me a chance to experiment with methods of precision-fitting metal and printed plastic parts. I am planning to make one that will use two bearings and a stack of hard drive platters.

  2. Wait; I just thought of a use for them. Sales rep comes to your office or calls you on the phone. “I’ve got a fidget spinner here, and you have as long as it spins to make your pitch. Ready? Go!”

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