Fidgets & ADHD: What Parents Need to Know

 

Who would have thought that one of the most effective ways to get a student with ADHD to focus is by sending him to class with a toy?

“Fidgets,” as they’re called, are objects that keep a student’s hands occupied so he can focus his mental energy on class lessons.1 At Churchill, we pair fidgets with instructional principals to help students pay attention and make real progress in the classroom.

Student using classroom fidget

We chatted with Wyndy McRoy, Wilson® Partner Trainer and Tutorial Supervisor at Churchill, to get answers to some of the most common questions parents ask about introducing fidgets into their child’s learning plan.

How do fidgets work?

Yearbook photo of Churchill's Wyndy McRoy
Yearbook photo of Churhcill's Wyndy McRoy

Wyndy McRoy is a Wilson® Partner Trainer and Tutorial Supervisor at Churchill.

When a primary task — such as reading or listening to a lecture — isn’t interesting or stimulating enough, students can easily lose focus. The idea behind fidgets is that students can increase their focus by engaging a sense other than the one required for the primary task. Researchers call this a simultaneous sensory-motor stimulation strategy.2 

“Fidgets keep students focused on learning by taking care of things that are distracting to them, or by helping to calm or relax them,” says McRoy. “If students don’t have a primary fidget, they pick up something and they’re fidgeting anyway — whether it’s their shoes or their clothes or their pencils or whatever. If those things work, great. If not, then parents or teachers can give them something that works a little better or is less distracting to others in the classroom.”

“Fidgets keep students focused on learning by taking care of things that are distracting to them, or by helping to calm or relax them.”

Who are fidgets for?

While fidgets are most commonly used by students with ADHD, the objects can also be beneficial to students with other learning disability diagnoses. “ADHD is probably your primary diagnosis, but some of the students with sensory integration issues also find fidgets helpful,” says McRoy. “It’s hard to separate it out, because a lot of students have attention concerns along with dyslexia or other learning issues.”

Fidgets have also been found to help with anxiety or nervousness. As McRoy notes, “If there’s a situation where a student is feeling nervous, we can bring in a ribbon or a worry stone that the student can rub or hold to soothe them a little bit.”

Photo of student using baseball fidget

What type of fidget is right for my child?

A good fidget is silent, tactile, safe, and inexpensive — but outside of those credentials, the possibilities are virtually endless.3 “A fidget can be anything from a squeeze ball to Silly Putty, a pipe cleaner, or Velcro,” says McRoy. “Different things work for different students at different times, and finding the right fidget for a child really depends on what they need at a specific time.”

Where should I shop for fidgets?

There are specialty fidget shops online, but McRoy recommends starting out at the dollar store. “While there are plenty of objects specially designed for this purpose, I would recommend that you start cheap because they might get lost, or they might not work. You can also check bookstores and other gift shop-type places.”

Photo of student using fidget

Do I need to Talk to my child’s teacher before sending him to school with a fidget?

“I definitely think so,” says McRoy. “The more parents and teachers communicate, the more likely the fidget is to be successful. You need to help educate teachers and work with your child to understand that this is a helpful tool, as long as it doesn’t distract you or anyone else. If it keeps you from paying attention, then we need to try something else.”

“The more parents and teachers communicate, the more likely the fidget is to be successful. You need to help educate teachers and work with your child to understand that this is a helpful tool, as long as it doesn’t distract you or anyone else.”

Do you have any tips on keeping fidgets from distracting other students?

Fidgets are great for helping an individual pay attention, but when the object distracts other students, the tool becomes counterproductive. “It’s important to set some boundaries and guidelines,” says McRoy. “When a student taps on the desk, ask them to tap on their leg instead to minimize noise. If other students are watching the fidget instead of paying attention, ask the student to keep it on his lap instead of on the table.”

References

  1. 17 Ways to Help Students With ADHD Concentrate. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/17-ways-help-students-adhd-fidget
  2. Fidgeting Strategies that Help People with ADHD Focus. PsychCentral. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/03/29/fidgeting-strategies-that-help-people-with-adhd-focus/
  3. Fidgets in the Classroom for Kids with ADHD. Retrieved August 02, 2016, from http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/8706.html

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