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 can disrupt learning in the classroom for their own benefit and for others. ADHD children often seek additional sensory input to stay alert and organized. The more they receive from their environment, and the more organized their bodies and minds feel, the better.

Fidget toys are a centuries-old concept. Baoding ball technology was developed during China’s Ming Dynasty. This was centuries before fidget spinners became fashionable. Two small metal balls could be held in one hand and rotated repeatedly to reduce stress. The smooth motion of the balls was believed to be soothing and can help users achieve a calm state.

Dr Karlesky of New York University says that fidget toys reflect a human need for 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.”

The theory behind fidget toys is that children feel the need to touch and feel objects to provide sensory input. This helps to calm their nervous system. Fidget toys can provide sensory input in a more non-distracting way. A fidget toy can be used to help a child focus and learn. ‘filter out’They have too much sensory information.  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. Studies have shown that students who used a stress ball fidget toys to stimulate their brains with movement and sensory input, were able to focus better in learning situations.

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.
  • Keep quiet, so as to not cause distractions.
  • Ability to use without distracting others.

It is important to also consider the following:

  • What foundation skills do they possess? What foundation skills do they have?
  • Is there a preference or avoidance of certain sensory experiences? Are there textures or sensations they might avoid? The fidget toy must provide a calming effect.
  • 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 regarding the use of the fidgettoy?

Some everyday items can help maintain sensory regulation at home and school. 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
  • Tracks that are a little bit crazy
  • Stretchable string made from monkey noodles
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Some toys are not right for every child. You may need to test several different fidget toys before you can find the best one for your child. Visit for more information.

Romy Saunders, Bellavista School Occupational Therapist


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