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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Fidget spinners: how the latest toy craze also benefits children with special needs

Marketed as a stress-relieving toy that helps with nervous energy, a fidget spinner is a small device you hold in the centre and then flick to make it spin rapidly.

Fidget spinners are the latest fad in school playgrounds. They are also the most popular new executive toy among those in the know – described by Forbes magazine as “the must-have office toy of 2017”.

More seriously, they can be an effective calming influence on youngsters with special needs.

Marketed as a stress-relieving toy that helps with nervous energy, a fidget spinner is a small device you hold in the centre and then flick to make it spin rapidly. They come in variety of materials, with the body typically made from metals such as brass, copper, stainless steel and titanium. The principle is simple: the heavier the metal, the longer it spins.

Such is the craze, all sectors of the retail market are getting in on the action, with fidget spinners available from online sites such as souq.com, Virgin Megastores, and even your local Baqala neighbourhood shops. Prices range from as little as Dh3 to Dh80, depending on design and materials used.

The spinner has also proved to be a valuable tool for those who work with special-needs students.

“When one deals with students who have special needs – think more along the lines of autism and Asperger’s – these spinners prove to be quite effective in keeping the students’ attention and focus, as it does provide them with the distraction they need to occupy their hands,” says Nickey Dee, a South African teacher at Abu Dhabi’s Reach British School. “It also helps define motor skills.”

Abu Dhabi-based special-needs teacher Michelle Perry, from the United States, says her son has Asperger’s and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “I thought these would be just another gimmick but, strangely enough, [the spinner] seems to relax him,” she says.

“If he’s having some sensory overload, he will just sit and spin them rather than have a meltdown. If he’s reading, he will spin the toy and actually comprehend the material better.”

Dr Mohammed Jalil Al Fahim, director of the Future Rehabilitation Centre for Special Needs in Abu Dhabi, says any item or strategy that allows a child to fall back on a distraction can be beneficial if that child – or even an adult – suffers from anxiety or trauma symptoms.

“If a child has a difficulty like ADHD, acute stress disorder or sensory-processing issues, items like this fidget spinner can also help by providing either sensory stimulation or distraction,” he says.

Fidget toys have also proved useful in weaning children off other habits, such as thumb-sucking, biting nails or picking at cuticles.

“My son has dyspraxia, a multi-faceted condition,” says Abu Dhabi resident Louise Evans, from the UK. “We’ve used fidget toys of various kinds for years.”

But not everyone is happy about by the craze. Some schools, locally and internationally, have banned fidget spinners, saying they are a distraction in the classroom.

Last week, the American International School of Abu Dhabi banned the toy.

Other schools that have imposed a ban include Greenfields Community School in Dubai, Reach British School in Abu Dhabi, Diyafah International School in Mohammed bin Zayed City, and Al Ajban School in Shahama, as well as some government schools.

Kelly Louise, a primary schoolteacher in Abu Dhabi, says she’s sick of the toy.

“They’re everywhere – where on Earth have they come from?” she says.

“I confiscate them immediately; they’re so annoying and distracting. I’m getting quite the collection now.”

If your child relies on aids such as fidget spinners or cubes, Dr Al Fahim suggests talking to the school to explain why they are necessary for your child.

Like any fad, it will pass, says Canadian teacher Tracy Innes, who also works at Reach.

“We all had different obsessions, depending on our age,” she says. “Don’t you remember having to have the hot new toy? Some kids actually need them and it does calm and focus them.

“I’ve told my students to keep them in their bags for playtime. In a few weeks or so, it will be something else.”

Fidget-busters

toyThe Perplexus Rookie. Frank Augstein / AP photo

There are a variety of ‘fidget’-type toys available to keep children occupied, or to relieve boredom, nervousness and stress among adults. Here are a few of them:

The Perplexus Rookie

This is too big to fit in a purse but it’s a great toy for passing the time in the car or on a plane. You have to guide the ball through a complex maze, and each section is numbered by level. The challenge appeals to all ages.

Dh39 on Souq.com.

A Rubik’s Cube

An oldie but a goodie. Originally called the Magic Cube and considered the world’s best-selling toy, this colour-combination puzzle is a classic that never goes out of style.

From Dh18 on Souq.com, depending on the size of the cube.

A Tangle Junior

This is a great, inexpensive option for idle hands. You can take it apart, put it back together and mould it into many shapes.

Dh10 on Souq.com.

artslife@thenational.ae