If you’ve been around kids lately, you’ve probably come across a fidget spinner or heard about the hand-held toy.
These little gadgets have three weighted prongs that you can spin between your fingers, and they've rocketed to popularity recently.
One quick look on Amazon shows that plenty of companies make fidget spinners, and some offer bold claims stating that spinners can “increase focus,” provide “stress relief,” and even help kids with ADHD, autism, and anxiety.
Those are pretty big promises for a little toy, but...there’s no scientific evidence to back them up.
The original fidget spinner was created by an inventor from Florida who thought it could help world peace by calming kids who threw rocks at police in Israel—not a behavioral scientist, according to TIME.
However, fidgeting has been linked to helping kids with ADHD—one study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, found that the more kids with ADHD fidgeted the better their memory—but experts aren’t convinced that these little toys should suddenly become a learning tool.
Clinical psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D., author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, calls them “horrible,” especially when they show up in the classroom.
“Even if they have some therapeutic benefit, a diversion device like this takes the person away from developing compensation techniques that are necessary for the long-term control of their condition and better functioning,” he says.
Fidget spinners are also distracting for other kids when they’re allowed in classrooms, activities, and clubs, he says, and can have “disastrous effects” on classroom discipline. (Learn how bone broth can help you lose weight with Women's Health's Bone Broth Diet.)
Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif., says that fidget spinners are a “fun toy” but acknowledges that there’s really no science behind it.
However, she says they may be useful for some kids in certain situations.
Children with autism tend to like to engage in sensory behaviors like spinning in circles, flapping their hands, and staring at fans, she says, and fidget spinners might be helpful to serve as a non-intrusive way for children with autism to engage in those behaviors in certain situations. “But will they treat autism? Absolutely not,” she says.
Mendez is less convinced about the benefits for ADHD and anxiety. Children with ADHD benefit from gross motor movement, she explains, but fidget spinners don’t stimulate a child’s gross motor capacities.
“It’s probably a greater distraction than any other purpose for a child with ADHD—and attention deficit disorders are distracting enough,” she says.
Fidget spinners may help distract children who suffer from anxiety but are too distracting to be used at school, she says.
Watch a doc explain anxiety:
For children that have trouble focusing, Mayer recommends working with them to build life-long skills, such as taking more time to read, making notes in margins of books, helping them memorize material, and using flash-cards and learning drills instead of using “toys and gimmicks.”
So, if you want to get a fidget spinner for a kid in your life, it’s totally fine to do so—just don’t expect that it’s going to be anything more than a fun toy for them to play with.