The break from routine towards the end of term and during the holidays is a difficult time for many; additional coping strategies are often needed. It can be expensive to provide enough choice to meet different needs on different days, and homemade objects can be very useful to fill the gap.
A fidget is any small object which helps keep hands busy and provides tactile (touch) input. If used in an educational setting, it is especially important that the fidget does not act as a distraction. Fidgets can be purpose made, homemade or an everyday object designed for another use. The choice of size, shape, texture and density is very individual and personal preferences are likely to change – sometimes daily – therefore a choice of fidgets is recommended. If you or your child goes off a particular fidget, don’t give up or throw it away – have other options to try so you can come back to your favourite again or retry a fidget which was initially unsuccessful.
Using a fidget can help children and adults self-settle and calm their nervous system – thereby positively impacting on focus and attention, active listening and retention of information. Fidgeting can help re-direct the need to move to a more acceptable and contained version. When we are calm and ready to engage, we can adapt to situations more easily, respond in a more organised way, and consider taking on new challenges – however small.
Fidgets can work well for those who have a constant need to touch things and other people; who constantly wriggle in their seat and get up and wander; who appear distracted and unfocussed; those who focus on picking, prodding, grabbing and pulling at things and disrupting others. Fidgets don’t work for everyone and if fidgeting leads to more problems than it solves, first looks at different kinds of fidget with fewer sensory properties (e.g. avoid fidgets which make a noise, choose a dull colour or one with no moving parts). Fidgets which provide deep pressure input to the fingers and hands may have a more calming effect for some people.
The exact term used may not be important when at home and out and about, but when introducing the idea to others, and particularly at school, a ‘fidget tool’ may have more sway.
Fidgets for school use need to be non-distracting and allow the user to almost subconsciously manipulate them. They also need to be discreet and not look too interesting to other children. A fidget which can be used with one hand is particularly useful for the classroom.
If you need to fidget in class, build a collaborative team between home and school and agree on some ground rules in advance. Agreeing a ‘contract’ for fidgeting beforehand is far more likely to result in success. Encourage your child to describe in their own words why they need a fidget – this can help teaching staff to understand and support your child.
Examples of reasonable rules around use might be;
A consequence of inappropriate use should be agreed in advance, e.g. If the fidget is used inappropriately it will be removed for the remainder of the session and if behaviour repeated, removed for the remainder of the day.
The fidgets listed below are suitable for most environments. With the exception of the ‘Flick Flack’ which makes a soft rustling noise. When fidgets are made up in brighter colours they have a higher combination of sensory properties and may, therefore, be too distracting for an education setting. The examples have been made up in colours which photograph more clearly, but all can be made in more muted colours or colours which blend in with school uniform. All the fidgets are easy to make at low cost from readily available or recycled materials.
I hope you find this useful and adaptable to meet your needs. Wishing you all a calm and happy Christmas.
Senior Children’s Occupational Therapist
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