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Schools Ban Fidget Spinner Toy, Except for Therapy Use, as Craze Sweeps NYC

By Amy Zimmer | May 5, 2017 10:47am | Updated on May 8, 2017 9:16am
 A child plays with a fidget spinner.
A child plays with a fidget spinner.
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BROOKLYN — The wildly popular fidget spinners — a small palm-sized toy named because kids can spin and fidget them between their fingers — have swept the city and have even been hailed as a therapeutic tool for kids with autism, anxiety or attention disorders.

But the trend has driven parents and teachers crazy, as several schools have banned the toy building-wide and staffers at many other schools are prohibiting them from their classrooms, DNAinfo New York has learned.

At M.S. 442 in Carroll Gardens, school leaders opted to ban the toy for fear that the spinners are distracting and could potentially cause injuries, according to a notice the school posted on Facebook last week.

“In an effort to prevent injuries, we must officially ban these fidget spinners from being brought into our school,” the letter said. “Although seemingly harmless, these items are being taken out during class causing a distraction to students and staff. They are also being thrown around during transition in the hallways to and from class and in the cafeteria and at recess. They are small in size, but can seriously hurt someone.”

Yet the school is allowing students with autism, attention deficit disorder, anxiety or other diagnoses who need the devices for therapeutic reasons to use fidget spinners provided by the school.

“Please note that if your child has a sensory issue and needs a fidget, we have them on hand,” stated the letter from M.S. 442 — which has a highly-regarded ASD Nest Program, where children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are “nested” in small-sized classrooms co-taught with general education students.

The school declined to respond to requests for comment.

Astoria's P.S. 122 and Parkchester's P.S. 196 also banned fidget spinners, according to parents and reports.

DOE officials said schools have the right to prohibit the fidget spinners if they choose.

"Schools have the discretion to make decisions about these items that meet the needs of their school community," DOE spokesman Will Mantell said.

Experts say it's good the school can recognize the benefits of fidget spinners, which have been found to improve focus and concentration for students on the spectrum or with anxiety or attention disorders.

Kristie Patten Koenig, chair of NYU Steindhardt’s Department of Occupational Therapy and principal investigator of the ASD Nest program, said she's glad the school was able to make the distinction between students who really need the toy and those who don't.

“I think it’s really important to distinguish among toys and accommodations or aides to help kids focus,” Koenig said. “To me, this has taken on the level of a cool toy that everyone wants. There’s a fad-y nature to them."

She understood the appeal.

"They are pretty cool. You can just be doing a mindless task or a focus task and be doing something with your fingers," she said.

The toys are easy to carry, colorful and appealing to kids — who trade them for different colors and patterns — and can be had for less than $5 (although some cost as much as $20).

Catherine Hettinger is believed to have created the first fidget spinner in 1993, according to Money magazine, but the toy was initially rejected by Hasbro. The company later created a version of it more than 20 years later, after Hettinger’s patent expired.

The gadget recently became a top seller on Amazon and mass market phenomenon, with kids posting Youtube videos of themselves "unboxing" the toy.

Koenig said the fact that kids are going crazy for spinners might be a sign that schools aren't doing enough to help kids exercise during the day.

“The message may be that I need to build some opportunities for movement into the class day, which will help the whole class focus,” she said. “Kids need to move."

One of her graduate students, Shira Mechanic, started a company called the Fidget Club that sells an array of anxiety-relieving gadgets, like squishy stress balls, chewy necklaces, coil bracelets, stretchy string, and Rubix cube-like toys.

These types of products helped Mechanic, who is autistic, with her own sensory processing issues, and she wanted to share them with others as a way to show that “developmental differences such as Autism and ADHD do not prevent one from living a happy and productive life.”