Spinning Trend: Is fidget spinner toy or tool?

Danielle Drake-Flam/For the Gazette Sportscard Connection carries the original metal fidget spinners in understated colors of silver, gold and pink for $15 each.

Fidget spinners, which have been around since 1993, only just recently became popular this spring.

Originally designed for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and autism, fidget spinners were meant to be a tool with which one could distract their pent-up energy and help them focus, whether it be in a classroom or during a business meeting.

What started out as a tool, however, has evolved into a toy collectible for others, prompting disputes about their value in the medical and education fields.

Fidget spinners, which are technically defined as “a toy that consists of a bearing in the center of a multi-lobed flat structure made from metal or plastic designed to spin along its axis with little effort,” come in a variety of colors and abilities — some can light up, while others glow in the dark or even make noise.

Houghton Elementary School counselor Micah Stipech said he only first heard about them this past March, when a kid asked to bring one in to school. Since then, the fidget spinners really took off, and many children began bringing them into the classroom.

Danielle Drake-Flam/For the Gazette Fidget Cubes are another tool used to treat ADHD and are also available at Sportscard Connection.

“Fidgets have been around for a long time — anything that will help kids focus or pay attention to their school work,” Stipech said. “The big thing with fidget spinners is helping parents differentiate between a toy and an actual fidget. A toy will distract you from your work, and others from your work, and a fidget will help you focus.”

Some teachers have considered banning fidget spinners, while others have discussed plans to allow kids to continue to use them, but only at appropriate times.

Anders Hill, principal of Houghton Elementary School, said while he understands the purpose of the fidget spinners and their helpfulness when used correctly, he has seen more harm than good of the gadget being used as a toy.

“We do have kids that need certain fidgets and those are tools, but they seem to be more of a toy and a status symbol for the kids,” Hill said. “I haven’t really see it as a tool that helps kids learn.”

Hill went on to say he expects to see the fidget spinner trend die down some, perhaps even before the new school year begins.

“I think that we might see that trend starting to wane. We’ll see if it’s still a trend when we come back,” Hill said. “Things like that tend to be really exciting for a while, and then, when everyone has one, it’s not so cool anymore.”

Sportscard Connection in downtown Houghton carries fidget spinners for $15. Marja Cowan, owner Tom Cowan’s wife, said the store only carries the original metal fidget spinners in silver, gold and pink, because they are more durable and encourage their initial use — to help people stop fidgeting.

“There are a lot of different kinds that you can get that do all sorts of things,” she said.“Some of them make noise, some of them light up or glow in the dark or any number of things. We don’t have those ones. We stick to the solid colors, because that’s not really what it was intended for.”

Cowan disagrees with the idea of banning fidget spinners, saying this current trend of “fidgeting” has allowed kids that have fidgeted their entire lives to finally feel included.

“Saying that they are not welcome at school on the one hand is a bad thing, because you’re alienating a group of kids that actually feel included because they’ve always been given things like the putty or little lock links or these kind of things to play with,” Cowan explained. “And it feels like to them other kids are now fidgeting, so they feel like they finally fit in rather than being the center of attention for being different. Which is nice.”

Sportscard Connection also carries another tool to help with fidgeting called the “fidget cube” — a plastic cube that is equipped with various button and dials and also helps in distracting the brain.

As these tools are silent and can also be carried in a pocket, they have been more welcome in the education system than the fidget spinners. Many teachers appreciate their less-distracting presence.

Brian Rendel, a counselor and training and prevention coordinator at Copper Country Mental Health Services, encourages those with ADHD, anxiety or autism to talk to their personal health care providers before investing in a fidget spinner. He also explained that there are other no-cost options out there for people struggling with disorders to explore.

“I would encourage people to look at no-cost options and consult their health care providers,” Rendel said. “Managing focus is something that can be done at no-cost.”

He recommended the book “Fidget to Focus: Outwit Your Boredom: Sensory Strategies for Living With ADD” by Roland Rotz and Sarah D. Wright for anyone who is struggling with attention deficit disorders.