Updated 11 July 2018

Is the latest fidget craze really an effective ADHD treatment?

Fidget spinners are the latest craze to hit the market but experts say they probably won’t help you if you have ADHD.

Fidget spinners, according to Forbes the "latest and must-have office toy to have in 2017", are being touted by stockists as a therapeutic tool to help children with ADHD, among other benefits.

But, do these toys really help or are they just another fad that will annoy parents and teachers?

Fidget spinners

The original fidget spinners were patented by an inventor from Florida in the early ’90s. All Catherine Hettinger wanted to do was promote world peace – after watching young boys in Israel throwing rocks at the police. She wondered what the effect would be if the children played with something calming instead. 

The spinner never took off and her patent expired in 2005. 

Fast forward to 2017 and you’ll find a number of YouTube videos showing teenagers doing tricks. Fidget spinners are now being touted as helping those who have ADHD. 

As the toy is virtually brand new, no research exists into whether or not it will actually help with ADHD, even though stockists claim they do. Experts, however, are still weighing in. 

ADHD, fidget spinner, boy, hyper active


Fidgeting may help ADHD

Dr Renata Schoeman, a psychiatrist based in Bellville in the Western Cape, says using fidget toys or stress balls for “intentional fidgeting”, note-taking for lengthy instructions, recordings of meetings and the use of a notebook to jot down “intrusive ideas” are useful for adults with ADHD. 

And according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, the more children with ADHD fidgeted, the better their working memory was. Researchers believe that the movement from fidgeting may stimulate under-active regions of the brain – such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the area that plays a role in attention, planning and impulse control. 

Health24 previously quoted Dr Trevor Resnick, a paediatric neurologist at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami, who said, "We've known [intuitively] for many years that kids with ADHD often do better when they are fidgeting."

However, Resnick said, the interpretation of why they fidgeted more has not been proven. "We don't know whether they do it to help or because they are anxious, or whether it is helping."

Not enough research on fidget spinners

David Anderson, psychologist and senior director at the Child Mind Institute, told Tech Insider he believes fidget spinners are just a fad.

"They're a toy; they're not a treatment. There's no universal recommendation of a toy or object for stress relief. They have as much scientific evidence for stress relief or treatments of anxiety and ADHD as, say, a pet rock," he says.

"They've only just come about, and scientific studies take time and money. It's always an issue when any company makes a sensational claim about a new product that provides treatment that isn't backed by science for mental illness." 

"It's important for parents and teachers who work with kids who have ADHD to know that there are very well studied and documented treatments that work, and that they're out there, so there's no really quick and easy fixes like buying a toy," Scott Kollins, a clinical psychologist and professor at Duke University, told NPR. "It's important that people don't get into trying these fads when we do have treatments that can help these kids."

Fidgeting vs. fidgeting spinners

But although fidgeting may help ADHD sufferers, fidget spinners probably won’t. 

“The spinner does the movement for them," Mark Rapport, head of the Children's Learning Clinic at the University of Central Florida told Time. "I imagine it would distract the heck out of kids."

"Many parents are desperate. They're looking for magic. These claims raise their hopes, only for them to get dashed."

Read more: 

Manage your ADHD and your time

Got ADHD? There’s an app for that!

What does the ADHD brain look like?


Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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