Many children with attention deficit disorders (ADHD) have trouble sitting still, paying attention, and controlling impulses. This affects the child’s life at home and at school and impacts on their ability to get along with others. ADHD children often disrupt learning in the classroom, both for themselves as well as for others. ADHD children often seek additional sensory input to stay alert and organized. The more input they receive from the environment, the more organized their minds and bodies feel.

Fidget toys are a centuries-old concept. Baoding balls were invented in China during the Ming Dynasty, hundreds of years before fidget spinners became popular. To reduce stress, the two small, metal balls could be rotated repeatedly. The smooth motion of the balls was believed to be soothing and can help users achieve a calm state.

According to Dr Karlesky of New York University fidget toys reflect a human need for self-soothe. “We are hard-wired for self-regulation enacted through tangible, tactile sensory experiences,”He said. “These mind-body mechanisms are initiated with specific objects with at least two key qualities: a distinct tactile experience and an ease in repeating that stimulation.”

Fidget toys are based upon the theory that children feel the need to touch and feel objects to provide sensory input. This helps to calm their nervous system. Fidget toys are a great way to provide sensory input in an easier and less distracting manner. A fidget toy can be used to help a child focus and learn. ‘filter out’Excessive sensory information in their environment.  The physiological stimulation that fidgeting provides can bring a child’s attention back to the task at hand, and allow them to focus, thus enhancing their learning opportunities.

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Research has shown that learning is dependent on both the right and the left hemispheres. A case study has shown that a student who was using a stress ball fidgettoy to stimulate these areas with both sensory input and movement, was able to focus more effectively in a learning environment.

What qualities make a fidget toy a good one?

  • Safe to use
  • They are relatively inexpensive so they can be replaced easily, or multiple fidgets placed around the house and classroom.
  • It is small enough to be held in one’s hand.
  • Keep quiet, so as to not cause distractions.
  • Ability to use without distracting others.

You should also consider the following:

  • What foundation skills does the person have? What foundation skills do they have?
  • Is there a preference or avoidance of certain sensory experiences? Are there textures or sensations they might avoid? Remember that the fidget toys should provide a calming influence.
  • What time of the day do they tend to be most fidgety? When would they find the most benefit from using a fidget tool?
  • What are the rules for using the fidget toys?

Some everyday items can be very effective in maintaining sensory regulation at school and home. A ‘fidget box’A variety of toys can be provided for the child so they can choose from a variety of options whenever they feel the need.

Some examples include:

  • Paperclips
  • Prestik
  • Elastic bands
  • Stress balls
  • Velcro under a desk
  • A hand-sized, smooth stone
  • Putty
  • Fidget cubes
  • Fidget Spinners
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Twist and bend straws
  • Fidget pencil toppers
  • Magnetic fidget rings
  • Push pops
  • Squishes
  • Twisty tangled
  • Tracks that are a little bit crazy
  • Stretchable string for monkey noodles
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Some toys are not right for every child. You may need to test several different toys to determine which one works best. Visit for more information.

Romy Saunders, Bellavista School Occupational Therapist


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