We’ve seen them everywhere – fidgets. They’re growing in popularity, among both kids and adults, but what is their true purpose? Why should we use them? They are often referred to as fidget “toys” but they can serve as more than a toy. As occupational therapists, we tend to prefer the word "tools." Although fidgets may appear fun and enjoyable, they serve a beneficial purpose that can be a great tool in our regulation and attention toolboxes.

What do fidget tools do?

Essentially, fidgets are intended to help individuals do two primary things: regulate and concentrate. Fidgets can provide an easy and accessible way to help self-regulate or concentrate by providing auditory, visual and/or tactile input.

As adults, we’ve all been there – it’s hard to focus on completing your long, seated, computer-based task. Over time, we all have developed go-to strategies to help increase our ability to focus, such as standing up at your desk, drinking some coffee or cold water, chewing gum or clicking a pen.

Fidget tools are meant to help in a similar manner. By engaging with a tactile tool (tactile meaning it uses our sense of touch), we can increase our ability to focus and attend to a task.

Similarly, you may have developed some helpful strategies in terms of regulation. If you’re sitting in the waiting room of your doctor’s office and are beginning to feel nervous for your upcoming appointment, you may distract yourself by scrolling on your phone or taking some deep breaths to help yourself regulate.

For children who are feeling overwhelmed in some way, using a fidget tool can help them focus their attention and energy into a calming fidget tool as a way to help relax, regulate and ground their bodies and minds. It’s important to note that they may not help with regulation and concentration at the same time.

Can fidget tools help with ADHD?

Fidget tools can help anyone, but they can be especially beneficial for individuals with diagnoses such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). These tools help build coping skills for individuals with such diagnoses, as they may often impact sustained attention, sensory processing or regulation skills.

How do I pick out an appropriate fidget?

There are so many different types of fidget tools out there. You or your child may want to try out a few different types to figure out which fidgets work best.

If you are looking for fidgets to help with concentration and attention, look for ones that aren’t as stimulating or visually distracting. A common fidget tool that’s helpful for concentration and attention is the fidget spinner. This is an example of a fidget that can be manipulated without really having to look at it.

If you are utilizing a fidget to assist with regulation, one that is more interactive with visual or auditory components to provide a grounding effect may be helpful. Gel visual timer fidgets or a puzzle ball are great fidget tools to provide this effect.

Luckily, as we mentioned before, fidgets are everywhere! They have become extremely accessible, which is great from an occupational therapist's point of view. Fidgets can be helpful for people of all ages, whether it’s during school-based tasks, waiting for appointments or day-to-day regulation needs. Be sure to try out different kinds and add a new tool to your regulation/attention toolbox!

The COAST Clinic at Bradley Hospital

The Communication, Occupational and Sensory Treatment (COAST) Clinic at Bradley Hospital offers comprehensive evaluation and treatment for children and adolescents who have difficulty participating in age-appropriate activities due to physical, neurological, cognitive, behavioral, communication or sensory processing challenges.