Fidget Spinners: Can They Help Anxiety and ADHD?

The Internet has been buzzing nonstop about fidget spinners, the latest craze to invade workplaces and schools. These pocket-sized devices, which can be spun with the flick of a finger, are marketed to ease the symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, and, for people with autism, sensory sensitivity. But can these little toys really improve focus and help create inner calm? To find out, we spoke with Pilar Trelles, MD, a psychiatrist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Her short answer: Yes, fidget spinners can help folks cope with higher-than-average energy levels, , or extreme sensitivity to certain environments. For example, explains Dr. Trelles, “when someone is hypersensitive to the environment they might bite their nails, pull out their cuticles, or pinch their skin.” Fidget spinners offer a less harmful way to expend that nervous energy.

Using sensory toys as a tool to calm down is nothing new: One study showed that squeezing a stress ball during surgery can lower anxiety by 18% and pain by 22%. Other research has found that squeezing stress balls in time with four slow breaths helped people with cancer relieve stress before and during medical procedures.

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Like using a stress ball, flicking a fidget spinner is considered a rapid stress management technique (RSMT), says Dr. Trelles—and for people with and anxiety, it’s best used as a supplement to treatment. “Psychotherapy and medications work well, especially with adults,” she explains. “Devices should be used in conjunction with these things because only using a toy to cure your anxiety isn’t going to get you where you need to be.”

Since people experience anxiety, autism, and ADHD on a spectrum, fidget spinners will have varying levels of effectiveness, says Dr. Trelles. But in general, fidget spinners can be soothing for people with anxiety, or someone with autism who is experiencing an anxious reaction. And for those with ADHD, “the repetitive act of spinning the toy may help [them] from feeling like they need to jump out of their chairs,” she says. “Anything that isn’t hurting you or causing a disruption, I’m an advocate for.”

Many schools have banned fidget spinners, citing them as a distraction. So what can a kid who benefits from this toy do instead? Fortunately, there are plenty of other RSMTs to choose from, says Dr. Trelles. Some children spread a thin layer of glue on their hands, let it dry, and then peel it off to deal with their anxiety. (This also keeps them from peeling off their own skin, Dr. Trelles notes.) Another option: Stick a piece of Velcro underneath the child’s desk so she can play with the texture for a soothing effect. Children who have autism or ADHD tend to develop better coping strategies in time, adds Dr. Trelles.

Curious about testing out a fidget spinner yourself? “As long as it’s not interfering with you or others, and it makes you feel calmer, I say go for it,” says Dr. Trelles.

After a Fidget Spinner Sent Her Daughter to the OR, Mom’s PSA Is Going Viral

Fidget spinners are the “it” toy right now, especially among primary-school kids and people of all ages who have anxiety, autism, or ADHD. But a mom in Texas is warning parents about a potential danger, after her daughter nearly choked on a metal bushing and needed emergency surgery to remove it.

Kelly Rose Joniec posted about the harrowing experience Monday on Facebook, and her post has since been shared more than 440,000 times. In the post, she writes that she was driving her daughter Britton home from a swim meet when she heard an “odd retching noise” coming from the back seat.

“Looking back in the mirror, I saw her face turning red and drool pouring from her mouth—she could utter noises but looked panicked so I immediately pulled over,” Joniec wrote. “She pointed to her throat saying she’d swallowed something, so I attempted Heimlich but there was no resistance.”

Britton was able to tell her mom that she had put part of her fidget spinner in her mouth “to clean it,” and had accidentally swallowed it. The pair rushed to an urgent care facility, where Britton was checked for choking. But the physicians there couldn’t figure out where exactly in her airway the spinner piece—a metal bushing about the size of a quarter—had lodged itself.

From there, the mother and daughter were taken to Texas Children’s Hospital in an ambulance, where an X-ray showed the bushing was lodged in Britton’s esophagus. “The GI doctor was fascinated,” Joniec wrote. “He’d only just learned of fidget spinners that morning when he was at the mall with his son, so it was a surprise to be faced with one in a case a few hours later.”

RELATED: 15 Signs You May Have Adult ADHD

Britton was given an IV and taken into surgery, where doctors used an endoscope—a narrow tube with a tiny camera on the end—to locate and remove the metal bushing.

“Fortunately we had a positive outcome, but it was pretty scary there for a while,” Joniec wrote, “not only because of the initial ingestion, but then the concern about the composition and structure of the object, and finally, the risk with general anesthesia.”

Joniec used her post to offer a word of caution to parents, noting that the small metal bushings in fidget spinners can pop out easily, and that not all spinners come with age-appropriate warnings.

She’s not the first caregiver to issue a warning about the potential choking hazard of fidget spinners, either. Earlier this month, Georgia resident Teresa Kesterson told a local television station that her 3-year-old grandson had been playing with a fidget spinner—also while riding in the car—when the toy came apart in his hands, leaving him holding tiny pieces including a light-up battery.

Thankfully, the boy’s mother noticed what had happened before he could put the pieces in his mouth. Kesterson told WSB-TV that the toy had not come with any language indicating that it could come apart or be a choking hazard, and was not recommended for any specific age range.

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The term fidget spinner is a generic name to describe the toys, which are usually made of plastic and contain one or more metal bushings on which the outer piece spins; some also contain lights and other battery-operated features. Fidget spinners are sold by a variety of companies, and their product labeling varies. Some online listings contain warnings about choking hazards, but many do not.

When used as directed, fidget spinners can have benefits for people with higher-than-average energy levels, anxiety, or extreme sensitivity to certain environments, Pilar Trelles, MD, a psychiatrist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, recently told Health. For people who tend to bite their nails, pull out their cuticles, or pinch their skin, for example, fidget spinners can offer a less harmful way to expend that nervous energy.