If you have a working internet connection or you are acquainted with anybody under the age of ten then you have no doubt heard of and potentially been annoyed by fidget spinners. Like all playground crazes schools have already started banning them but, unlike loom bands or Pokemon cards, fidget spinners were designed to help children focus and not to distract them.
Fidget spinners fit into the category of stim toys; despite how ubiquitous they have become they still have more in common with tangles and chewable necklaces than Beyblades and Tamagotchis.
Stimming refers to making repetitive movements or sounds and is a frequently occurring behaviour amongst people with developmental disabilities, including autism, ADHD and dyspraxia. Common stims include; hand flapping, rocking and head banging, and while most stimming is a harmless way for neurodivergent people to refocus and cope with overwhelming sensory input sometimes stimming can become self injurious. It’s under circumstances like this that stim toys become particularly helpful as they help neurodivergent people stim in ways that are not self destructive and cause the minimum possible amount of disruption.
“Stim toys are crucial in controlling and reducing self-destructive behaviour.”
People also use stim toys to help manage body-focused repetitive behaviors, an umbrella term that covers impulse control disorders including but not limited to Dermatillomania, Trichotillomania and Onychophagia (that’s skin picking, hair pulling and nail biting). In these cases stim toys are often crucial in controlling and reducing self-destructive behaviour patterns.
As Aiyana Bailin very eloquently put it “Something that was considered entirely pathological and in dire need of correction when done by disabled people is now perfectly acceptable because it is being done by non-disabled people.” It’s more than a little annoying than after decades of parents and teachers telling us to have ‘quiet hands’ and to ‘stop flapping’ to see our coping strategies turned into little more than annoying fads.
This was a sentiment that was echoed by Reg Phillips (@B00B_DYLAN on twitter) “[Neurotypical people] are all like well you have fidget cubes and spinners now why do you need to [stim in ways that are disruptive and conspicuous]. [They] see fit to co-opt products that help us, but aren’t interested enough to learn about stimming or anything else that affects us.”
“For you, fidget spinners might just be a trend, but for many it’s their number one coping strategy.”
On the other hand something that might genuinely help people becoming more accessible and acceptable can only really be a good thing. Heloise (@heloiseeeeee on twitter) told me “I find stim toys incredibly helpful for doing work or even just concentrating on a film/TV show. I don’t mind [the trend] so much because it means it’s more acceptable for me to use in public and fidget spinners are incredibly fun to play with no matter who you are, the only issue I have is when they’re being banned at schools because that actually does negatively impact neurodivergent kids. [And] sometimes I get the odd person telling me I’d a bit old to ‘play with those toys’ and that somehow feeds into them infantilising me further.”
Herein lies the real problem – it’s totally fine that neurotypical people are welcoming the fidget spinner into their lives – it’s not okay when they act disparagingly towards the people who genuinely need and see real benefits from using them. For you it might just be a trend, an annoyance, or a fun toy but for lots of people it’s their number one coping strategy.