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Growing fuss over fidgets

Cape Cod Times - 5/7/2017

May 07--Kids love fidget spinners, the latest toy craze to come around and go flying off store shelves.

Their teachers -- not so much.

Some of them claim that marketers who sell the small hand-held devices as a stress-relieving toy are not trafficking in truth in advertising.

While items known as fidgets have a respected history in helping children with ADHD or autism focus in class, fidget spinners are actually a distraction, said Lauri Gilbert, a third-grade teacher at Bournedale Elementary School.

"The spinners hit our building probably last week," Gilbert said. "All the teachers were like, 'This is more of a toy than a fidget.'"

True fidgets include small "stress" balls, wads of putty and marbles enclosed in fabric, Gilbert said. They are all small items that students can hold in their hands under their desks to renew their concentration by giving them a little mental break, she said.

Fidget spinners, which have a bearing at the center that allows students to adjust spin time and vibration, capture and hold student attention when it should be focused on the lesson, Gilbert said.

"It's totally mesmerizing," she said.

On a recent day, one third-grader wrote on a paper while spinning the fidget in his other hand, she said. "The student next to him did nothing but stare" at the fidget spinner, Gilbert said.

Typically made of metal or plastic in bright colors, many fidget spinners have three disks surrounding the bearing, and it's their spinning that captures the viewers' attention.

They "are hugely popular," said Kathy Calvin, spokeswoman for Titcomb's Bookshop in Sandwich.

"We have sold over 200 in just a week and a half," Calvin said.

"It's kids buying it for themselves. Once you start playing with them it's addictive," she said.

On Saturday at the Mashpee Public Library, Laurie Jensen, of Marstons Mills, said she had just bought fidget spinners for her children Anna, 6, and Ryan, 4.

"It's the newest fad. I think it's just fun," said Jensen, a Falmouth High School teacher.

"Most of my friends have one," Anna said, "That's how I actually got the idea."

Anna, a first-grader at Trinity Christian Academy in Hyannis, said she's allowed to use the fidget spinner only at recess.

Youngsters and adults have developed tricks and games for the fidget spinners, originally created by Catherine Hettinger, an inventor from Orlando, Florida. According to media reports, Hettinger's 1997 patent expired before the fidget spinner craze took off and could have made her big money.

It's not just little kids who are scooping up fidget spinners.

The craze has reached Bourne High School, and Calvin at Titcomb's said her husband finds the toy relaxing. "Dads are getting them too," Calvin said.

Occupational therapist Madeline Langley, who owns and operates the Cape Kids Therapy and Sensory Center in Mashpee, said therapists have had to take fidget spinners away from youngsters who hyperfocus on them.

Removing the fidget spinners can make the children upset, said Langley, who says the fidgets she employs regularly are more along the lines of small, squishy balls and something called Theraputty.

The tactile sensation of that type of fidget can calm students who are getting frustrated by math or other lessons, Langley said.

Fidget spinners are "really fun and interesting," said Dr. Bart Main, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist with Cape Cod Healthcare'sCenters for Behavioral Health.

"They are pretty distracting, especially in a classroom situation," Main said in a voicemail message.

Bourne Schools Superintendent Steven Lamarche said he leaves it up to individual teachers to decide whether or not to allow students to use the fidget spinners in their classrooms.

"This is one of those trending things that have come forward," Lamarche said. Due to its relatively low cost, "it's an equalizer. Everybody can have it," he said.

Third-grade students in Gilbert's classroom know if she catches them with a fidget spinner she will keep it on her desk until the end of the school day.

"Have fun with them at home," Gilbert said.

-- Follow Cynthia McCormick on Twitter: @CmccormickCCT.


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