Is the latest fidget craze really an effective ADHD treatment?

Fidget spinners, according to Forbes the "latest and must-have office toy to have in 2017", are being touted by stockists as a therapeutic tool to help children with ADHD, among other benefits.

But, do these toys really help or are they just another fad that will annoy parents and teachers?

Fidget spinners

The original fidget spinners were patented by an inventor from Florida in the early ’90s. All Catherine Hettinger wanted to do was promote world peace – after watching young boys in Israel throwing rocks at the police. She wondered what the effect would be if the children played with something calming instead. 

The spinner never took off and her patent expired in 2005. 

Fast forward to 2017 and you’ll find a number of YouTube videos showing teenagers doing tricks. Fidget spinners are now being touted as helping those who have ADHD. 

As the toy is virtually brand new, no research exists into whether or not it will actually help with ADHD, even though stockists claim they do. Experts, however, are still weighing in. 

ADHD, fidget spinner, boy, hyper active

                                                                                         iStock

Fidgeting may help ADHD

Dr Renata Schoeman, a psychiatrist based in Bellville in the Western Cape, says using fidget toys or stress balls for “intentional fidgeting”, note-taking for lengthy instructions, recordings of meetings and the use of a notebook to jot down “intrusive ideas” are useful for adults with ADHD. 

And according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, the more children with ADHD fidgeted, the better their working memory was. Researchers believe that the movement from fidgeting may stimulate under-active regions of the brain – such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the area that plays a role in attention, planning and impulse control. 

Health24 previously quoted Dr Trevor Resnick, a paediatric neurologist at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami, who said, "We've known [intuitively] for many years that kids with ADHD often do better when they are fidgeting."

However, Resnick said, the interpretation of why they fidgeted more has not been proven. "We don't know whether they do it to help or because they are anxious, or whether it is helping."

Not enough research on fidget spinners

David Anderson, psychologist and senior director at the Child Mind Institute, told Tech Insider he believes fidget spinners are just a fad.

"They're a toy; they're not a treatment. There's no universal recommendation of a toy or object for stress relief. They have as much scientific evidence for stress relief or treatments of anxiety and ADHD as, say, a pet rock," he says.

"They've only just come about, and scientific studies take time and money. It's always an issue when any company makes a sensational claim about a new product that provides treatment that isn't backed by science for mental illness." 

"It's important for parents and teachers who work with kids who have ADHD to know that there are very well studied and documented treatments that work, and that they're out there, so there's no really quick and easy fixes like buying a toy," Scott Kollins, a clinical psychologist and professor at Duke University, told NPR. "It's important that people don't get into trying these fads when we do have treatments that can help these kids."

Fidgeting vs. fidgeting spinners

But although fidgeting may help ADHD sufferers, fidget spinners probably won’t. 

“The spinner does the movement for them," Mark Rapport, head of the Children's Learning Clinic at the University of Central Florida told Time. "I imagine it would distract the heck out of kids."

"Many parents are desperate. They're looking for magic. These claims raise their hopes, only for them to get dashed."

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