The Benefits of Fidget Spinners for Learners with ASD

Like many crazes, when fidget-spinners arrived in Dorset schools in 2017 they received a negative reaction. Teachers argued that they caused disruption in the classroom and arguments amongst students; subsequently many schools have gone on to ban them from the classroom. However, these gadgets can have real benefits when used appropriately by students who struggle to focus in the traditional classroom because they are on the autistic spectrum. So, rather than impose a blanket ban schools in the Dorset area should be encouraged to consider cases individually where possible.

Fidget whats?

Fidget spinners have followed a long line of crazes in schools – just as bottle-flipping was on the wane (to teachers delight), in came the fidget spinner. This device, shaped like a propeller and fitted with ball-bearings to allow it to spin, can be used to develop tricks, resulting in groups of schoolchildren gathering around fidget-spinner aficionados in the playground to watch them excel in the latest fidget spinner stunts. Some just spin, others have features such as lights or the ability to glow in the dark. They have accrued a huge fan following for students with and without difficulties in the classroom, despite the fact that their original intention was to provide a soothing or calming effect rather than the arguments that they have caused in schools around the country.

Classroom Chaos

Some schools in the local area such as Longfleet Primary School and St. Mary’s Primary School in Poole have banned fidget spinners from the classroom, despite their benefits for students who struggle in the classroom. Some fidget spinners cause a noise as they spin, which is of course disruptive in the classroom and several parents and teachers have commented as to their negative effect in lessons. Furthermore, because of their increasing popularity more and more suppliers have sprung up and quality varies, with some schools claiming that the gadgets can be dangerous. Worse still were the fidget spinners produced to resemble weapons.

Fidget Spinners and ASD

Amongst all the discussion about fidget spinners, considerations of their benefits seem to have been lost. For students on the autistic spectrum there are benefits attached to the use of a fidget spinner. Children with autism face a range of difficulties with concentration which are exacerbated in the classroom. Particularly in a mainstream school, sensory stimuli can easily become overwhelming; a flickering light, a student clicking a retractable pen mechanism, other students chattering. The relaxing properties of a fidget spinner help the autistic student refocus, can alleviate stress they are feeling associated with sensory overload and can allow them the movement they need in order to maintain their focus.

Whilst the ‘trick’ aspect of the fidget spinner was not the intention of its original design, a student with autism who has learnt these tricks will almost certainly find they share their interest with other children, allowing them potentially to build some friendships, an area in which autistic children struggle. In 2017, more and more organisations are aiming to make themselves ‘accessible’ to people on the autistic spectrum, such as shops offering ‘autism hour’ and cinema’s offering ‘autism friendly’ showings. In view of this more accepting ethos, it seems odd that schools cannot adopt more considerate rules with regards to fidget spinners for students who are on the autistic spectrum.

Blanket bans on fidget spinners may be the easy answer, but not necessarily the best one, especially for the autistic student. Whilst fads are difficult to police , where possible local schools should be motivated by the need to stay inclusive; allowing an education to all students including those on the autistic spectrum. If an autistic child is more able to access inclusive education in Dorset due to the use of a fidget spinner, that surely outweighs the potential for distraction in the classroom if appropriate rules are set up for the use of these gadgets.

Jackie Edwards