Short Answer: The fidget spinner used as a toy, definitely. Toys are appropriate for everyone!
What is a fidget and what is it used for?
Fidgets are small, typically hand-held items that are used to aid in gaining focus and attention.
Some individuals need increased input from their environment in order to regulate themselves and achieve optimal focus to a task. Fidgets provide a simple, non-distractible outlet to gain this additional input, while increasing appropriate expected demands of a given environment. Most fidgets begin as novel toys, but with practice, become more of an inattentive habit. Some wonderful classroom fidgets include: a small piece of sticky-back Velcro secured under a desktop so a child can rub their fingers over the rough texture or an exercise band tied around the bottom 1/3 of the chair leg so a child is able to wiggle their feet. Both of these examples allow increased input or movement while silent, not to distract neighbors or hinder the attention of others.
Who needs a fidget? Is my child appropriate for an in-classroom fidget?
Children that need increased input from their environment in order to achieve the appropriate level of arousal to attend to a listening or focus task may benefit from a fidget. You identify these children as they may: jiggle their foot constantly, chew on pencil erasers, pick at stickers on the table, wiggle constantly in their chairs… often interrupting or creating behavioral disruptions in the classrooms and overall hindering their own learning and productivity because of their short attention span.
Fidgets in-classroom are appropriate for your child if they fit the above inattentive profile and they are able to maintain divided attention.
There are a few various types of attention:
Sustained: The ability to focus on 1 task for a continuous amount of time without being distracted, such as reading a book.
Selective: The ability to remain focused on 1 chosen stimuli, while filtering out other distractions. For example, the ability to productively work on homework while the television is on.
Alternating: The ability to alternate between equal attention to 2 tasks that require various cognitive demands. Cooking dinner while helping your child with homework is an instance of this type of attention.
Divided: The ability to process and effectively attain to 2 or more demands simultaneously, commonly known as multi-tasking. Driving a car while carrying on a conversation with a friend is divided attention.
Joint/Shared Attention: Shared focus of 2 individuals to one task. An example of this would be reading a book with your child.
If your child is unable to utilize a fidget and not distract others, while improving attention to an environmental demand (I.E. listening to the teacher, homework), there may be a benefit for your child using a fidget in-classroom. Your OT can access the appropriateness of your child using a fidget in the classroom and work with you to create a plan for increasing your child’s attentiveness. Talk with them for further information about how to use the fidget appropriately and what types of fidgets would most benefit your child.