On task behavior can be defined as paying attention to the task at hand, listening to adult directives and working with tools and materials as instructed. On task behaviors are correlated with greater success in school. Several students have difficulty with on task behaviors including children with ADHD, Autism, and sensory processing issues. The use of fidgets to improve attention to task is often provided as an accommodation in 504 plans and Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Based upon a review of the literature, the use of fidgets has not been studied much at all. In 2017, a lot of blogs were written about the use of fidget spinners as they were extremely popular, and one could even say it was a fad. Many of the blogs written at the time were not favorable and there was a lot of concern regarding the ingestion of small parts from the fidget spinners. Only three studies looked at fidget spinners using scientific methodology. The results of the studies were inconclusive. Soares and Storm (2019) looked at the use of fidget spinners during the delivery of a video lecture with undergraduate college students. They found that it had a negative impact upon memory. Schecter, et. al (2017) conducted a review and found no empirical evidence that supports the use of fidget spinners however they found no evidence to suggest that spinners do not work either. A third study was conducted but it only had four participants all with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and thus with an extremely small sample size the strength and validity of the study is very weak. Cihon et. al (2020) did not find any significant changes in the four student’s ability to follow verbal directions. It should be noted that all the studies located in the literature investigated the use of fidget spinners. There are many kinds of fidgets and they do not all have small parts that can be ingested. Many fidgets can be home made as the one illustrated in the video above. Additionally, the type of fidget should be provided based on a person’s sensory preferences. Some people tap their feet or fingers to maintain arousal while others play with a paper clip in their hand and still others chew on their pencil. The type of sensory input that a person naturally seeks, is organizing and thus can help sustain arousal and attention to task. The individualized approach to assigning fidgets and strategies is what all the studies in the literature thus far have lacked. Clearly there is a gap in the literature, but the absence of evidence does not indicate that a strategy cannot be effective.
So where do we go from here?
The literature cannot be used to guide decisions as to whether to implement the use of a fidget to improve attention to task. But it is imperative to note that evidence-based practice entails more than just a review of the literature. Clinical decisions are made based upon the literature, personal experience, and patient values. It is important to discuss with your therapist or teacher, the lack of evidence supporting the use of fidgets, but it is equally important to acknowledge your own values. If you value trying a strategy that will not harm but could benefit your child, then it should be considered. If your provider has had personal experience and stories of success with other students or clients; that experience needs to be considered. If you choose to provide your child with a fidget that is matched to their sensory preferences, then it is important to take data to ensure that it is working. You can easily create a simple tally sheet to track on task behaviors when the fidget is being implemented. If the fidget is not yielding the expected results, then perhaps it is not effective for your child.
Do Fidgets help with attention
The answer is not so simple; every child is different and has a unique nervous system. It is important to measure the effectiveness of a fidget for your child. Taking data is the only way to determine if it works or not.
WHAT ARE THE BEST FIDGETS?
The best fidget is one that matches your child's sensory preferences. For instance, if your child likes to touch and feel, then choose something with textures and buttons might work best.
How do I make a fidget pencil
See video above.
Materials needed: pencil, pencil grip, nuts and bolts that fit around the pencil, pipe cleaner, beads and a hot glue gun.
1. Slide the nuts and bolts on the pencil followed by the pencil grip.
2. Hot glue one end of the pipe cleaner to the pencil, lace the beads and then hot glue the other end.
** Ensure an adult uses the hot glue gun**
Dr. Randal FEdoruk
I am a pediatric occupational therapist. I have worked with children in various settings for over twenty years. I am a professor and I teach pediatrics and mentor Doctoral students completing research with a pediatric focus.