Fidget to Focus

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“Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, and is one of the most common mental health conditions in children. Boys are three times more likely to develop ADHD than girls. Symptoms of ADHD usually arise between the ages of three and five but are typically most prominent in the elementary school grades and often persist throughout adulthood.” (

There is no denying the prevalence of ADHD among both children and adults. Symptoms affect academic performance, executive functioning, professional and personal relationships, and overall self-esteem in “more than a million Canadian men, women, boys and girls of all ages” ( including “about 5% of the school-age population”(

Since the identification of ADHD in the 18th century, several theories, treatments, medications and therapies have been investigated, trialed and proved effective or ineffective. From within the chaos of possible strategies however, one simple, entirely accessible solution remains effective: fidget toys.

Like the ancient Chinese iron balls, or more commonly called “stress balls”, a fidget toy works by stimulating neurotransmitters in the brain, giving the nervous system the stimulation it needs to help the user pay attention and focus more deeply on a given task. It is said to relieve muscle tension, provide relaxation and reduce the need to move around, a symptom very common to ADHD.

Whether working at home or at school, a fidget can provide very positive results in increasing attention and focus. Depending on the individual, a fidget can be as simple as a smooth stone in the pocket or as involved as wearing an inflatable vest. Laura MacNiven from the Springboard Clinic in Toronto recommends the following three rules for a fidget to be allowed when working: fidget toys must not compete with the primary task, they cannot distract the individual, and they cannot distract others. Most importantly, a fidget must suit the individual. Explore the list below to pick up some ideas of possible fidgets.

Comfort and compression clothing provides a sensory experience that is soothing, calming, and aids in organizational thoughts and improved body awareness.

Balances help centralize focus and provide overall body strengthening benefits.

Exercise balls, similar to seat cushions but more versatile for gross motor, not only strengthen core muscles but provide an outlet for movement that can engage the brain to increase concentration and focus.

Fidget for Your Digit offers fine and deep touch stimulation to be worn on the finger. If not the name brand version, try a ring, elastic band, or bracelet.

Stress balls provide a simple squeeze or fiddle toy in various sizes. A foam ball from a dollar store can do the trick!

Tangles are items for fine touch and a manipulative for fiddlers.

Theraputty is a soft manipulative that can be used to squeeze, form a pencil grip etc. Use Playdoh, clay, or other made-at-home materials.

Therabands, large elastic resistance bands, are available in different resistances and used in multiple ways, i.e., tied to chair legs to give children heavy legwork while seated.

Wedge Cushions are soft seat cushions on an angle for those who have a hard time sitting upright or tend to lie on their desks or floor.

Weights or weighted products can provide pressure touch and proprioceptive input giving a calming feeling. Weighted wristbands, ankle-bands, and lap weights can bring incredible focus to a person. Use objects from home at varying times, especially during sitting activities.

Wiggle Cushions stimulate the vestibular and proprioceptive systems and are effective for those who need mid-body stimulation. Some examples are ‘Disco Sit’ and ‘Movin Sit’.

Wikki Stix is a mess free, hypoallergenic creative tool used for kinesthetic activities.

With the proper fidget toy or tool, it is possible to witness your child transform from “characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity” to calm and focused while working or observing/listening. Take the time to trial different options and stick to the three rules!

For more information on strategies and techniques associated with supporting individuals with ADD/ADHD, contact Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space at 416.925.1225 or visit

Ruth Rumack has been a full-time teacher and educator since 1996. Visit her Google+ page to find out more about early childhood education.


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