Two weeks ago, my newsfeed flooded with images of something that resembled the head of a men’s electric razor. In the days that followed, I saw desperate posts in mommy Facebook groups asking, “I can’t find a fidget spinner anywhere! Can anyone tell me which stores have them in stock?” They added that their children just had to have one like their peers.
Just like when Hatchimals, Pokémon Go, and Pie Face emerged, within just a couple of days, parents everywhere were going crazy trying to hunt down the hot new thing. One mom on social media even admitted she’d spent entire evening visiting six different Walgreens stores in her quest for spinners.
Even unsuspecting places started carrying the spinners. Just last week I went into our local beauty supply store to purchase hair products for my daughters. As I approached the checkout counter to pay, I was greeted by a row of boxed fidget toys lined up enticingly. I asked the cashier, “Just out of curiosity, how much do one of these cost?”
She smiled and said, “$14.99. We’re selling a ton of them. And we’re supposedly getting a light-up version in a few days. Would you like one?”
“No,” I replied, my tone tinged with annoyance.
It’s one thing when it comes to the must-have toy of the holiday season. We expect it. But when the spinners became a popular craze within a matter of days, well, that’s a different story.
Let me be blunt: fidgets are for people with special needs.
When my son was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, professionals such as his occupational therapist suggested various tools to help him manage everyday situations. For example, we always have noise-muffling headphones with us to help dull some of the sounds that trigger a strong sensory response. Things like fire drills, the buzzer at a basketball game, or too-loud volume on a television can cause an epic meltdown, reoccurring nightmares, and increased auditory sensitivity for several days after.
Another tool we use is a fidget object. The purpose? A small fidget allows a child to keep their hands busy while attending to a task, such as listening to the teacher read a book. Some children, my son included, literally cannot sit still. It’s not within his control to “sit criss-cross applesauce” and “be quiet” and “focus.” That’s not how his brain and body work. But fidget objects? They can be magical. By giving the child a tool that allows limited and controlled movement, he or she is able to focus.
Since spinners became popular, many teachers, bus drivers, and entire schools have banned them. Why? Because they are a distraction. Yet parents are still buying them and kids are still sneaking them to school, all because they are cool.
The thing is, something medically necessary shouldn’t be a trend. Trends are typically lighthearted and fleeting, while also being deeply glorified and price gouged. I mean, come on. We’re not going to buy every child a wheelchair because they can go fast and spin around. What about an insulin pump? Or an EpiPen? Of course not! Some things are only intended for those who need them.
I’m fearful as a special needs parent that if we, as a society, encourage fidget objects to be used beyond their intended purpose, they will be taken from children, like my son, who need them in the management of day-to-day life. Special needs parents will have to work even harder than we already do to put protections in place for our children so they have access to what they need.
The last thing any special needs parent wants is another hurdle in our way. We already advocate for our children’s needs in IEP meetings, social situations, medical appointments, and therapy appointments — many of these times knowingly and necessarily embarking on yet another uphill battle.
In essence, a fidget toy isn’t really a toy; it’s a tool. And these tools should be reserved for the individuals who need them.
More importantly, a special need isn’t a trend; it’s a reality.