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 are always looking for additional sensory input to help them feel more 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. Two small metal balls could be held in one hand and rotated repeatedly to reduce stress. The constant motion of these smooth balls was said be soothing and meditative.

According to Dr Karlesky from New York University, fidget toys reflect a human need to self soothe. “We are hard-wired for self-regulation enacted through tangible, tactile sensory experiences,”He says. “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 requires both the left and right hemispheres. A case study has shown that a student who used a stress ball fidgettoy to stimulate these areas with movement and sensory input was able to focus more effectively in a learning environment.

What are the qualities that make a good fidget toys?

  • Safe to use
  • They are relatively cheap and can be easily replaced. Multiple fidgets can also be placed around the home or classroom.
  • It is small enough that you can hold it in your hand.
  • Be quiet so as to not distract others.
  • Able to be used without distracting other people.

You should also consider the following:

  • What foundation skills does the person have? Are they able to use a fidget toy with their hand strength and motor skills?
  • Is the child sensitive to certain sensations? Is there a particular texture or sensation they are allergic to? Remember that the fidget toys should provide a calming influence.
  • Which times of the day are they most fidgety? And when would they be most likely to benefit from a fidget ty?
  • 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’You can give the child a variety to choose from whenever they feel the urge to fidget.

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
  • Strange tracks
  • Stretchable string for monkey noodles
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You should try different fidget toys to find the one that works best for your child. For more information, please visit

Romy Saunders, Bellavista School Occupational Therapist


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