Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Fidget Spinners and Disability

Recently, I've noticed a big trend in fidget toys, particularly a type called fidget spinners.  At a recent pop culture convention I attended, no less than three separate booths were selling different types of fidget spinners, one was specifically dedicated to fidget spinners.  I have very mixed feelings about this.

On one hand, such things are ideal for people with ADHD and Autism and have long been favoured by them as fidgeting helps them to concentrate and focus.  However, these toys and gadgets along with pens and paper for doodling have been confiscated for years by teachers convinced that these students are being disruptive and misbehaving.  While not on the spectrum myself, even I can find it much easier to focus in lecture situations if I am able to draw on paper while I listen. When I was in my final year of intermediate school (year 8 or form 2 for NZ; year 7 for Australia, grade 7 for USA), my teacher at the time discovered a "revolutionary" study that showed that scribbling and drawing on paper can help people concentrate and take in information in the classroom.  So we were thereafter allowed to scribble on paper during class.  However, the next year and on to new teachers, no accommodations were made and confiscations were back.

There are advantages to the popularisation of fidget toys: increased availability for those with legitimate needs for them, lowered prices due to increased demand and market competition, and (in theory) increased acceptance of fidgeting, especially among peers.

From an outsider's perspective, it seems that the popularisation of these toys stemmed from the kickstarter for the fidget cube, which quickly got reproduced and mass marketed as companies recognised their appeal.  However at least in terms of fidget spinners, they seem to have completely missed the point of the fidget cube's creation.  The fidget cube was designed to be small and discreet and so that the user's fidgeting would not bother or disturb anyone, but as popularity has increased, the fidget spinners have become more conspicuous and distinct in order for producers to create points of difference to their competition.  This increases the likelihood for parents and teachers to find them an annoyance and confiscating or even banning them - again removing a coping mechanism for people with cognitive disabilities, behavioural issues, ADHD, and Autism, and again increasing the stigma and barriers for these people.

I interviewed Karleigh Jones, an autistic disability activist in Aotearoa New Zealand on the topic of fidget toys.  She confirmed the importance of them as a coping mechanism for stressful situations.  "I have no issues with the popularity of them.  I just have issues with people not using this opportunity to educate about difference and how things like that are tools."  Her advice to teachers and parents was to be aware of the crucial nature of these tools for some kids to cope with stress.  Like Karleigh, I worry that fidget toys are going to be a passing fad in the general populace.  I just hope that it results in increased awareness and allowances made for people with disabilities that depend on these toys for concentration and coping, especially in educational settings, rather than undermining them further.


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