Random SLP, Random Therapy Ideas

The Fidget Toy Awakening

I am wrapping up my last of 4 weeks interning at The Ely Center in Boston, MA. Although 4 weeks isn’t a whole lot of time in the scheme of things, I’m both amazed and impressed with how much I’ve been able to learn during this past month. One of the best parts of this Ely Center experience has been working alongside Sean Sweeney (ahem, Speech Techie) and soaking up many of his awesome, SLP-celebrity-status ideas! One of the social-cognitive groups he runs at the center makes use of what the center refers to as fidget toys. “What is a fidget toy?” you might ask! While they can take many forms, the gist of a fidget toy is to be something that keeps a person’s hands engaged so they can keep their brain focused on what’s happening around them. They can be great little sensory supports for kids who need constant movement or pressure on their hands, and can aid in helping these kids with whole body listening (minus the perfectly quiet hands part).

At The Ely Center, there’s a basket near the front desk with a variety of fidget toys the group members could grab on their way back to the room:

Don’t these look super FUN, BRIGHT, COLORFUL, and…totally, utterly, and completely distracting? These fidget toys definitely have their place in therapy, but unfortunately we quickly discovered that instead of aiding in focus and attention during group, these particular fidget toys were just too exciting for their intended purpose. Still, the kids in this group needed something to keep their hands busy and their brains on track.

Sean and I set out to CVS in search of some less colorful and less exciting fidget toys to replace these. We had basic stress balls in mind, but ended up finding (and loving) these rubbery “hair bands” instead:


Although the other fidget toys (remember the first picture?) can be fabulous in certain contexts, these bands were perfect as something the kids could constantly roll, squeeze, stretch, and wrap around their fingers without causing a distraction to themselves or others in group!



If you decide to incorporate fidget toys into your therapy, here are a few suggestions for helping your clients to be successful in using them:

  1. Choose fidget toys that are appropriate for the environment and context! Is the client using this fidget toy as a way to keep their hands from engaging in a destructive habit during a movie at home? Then perhaps a larger, spiky or squishy ball would be a great option. If he’s using it as a way to keep his brain, eyes, and ears engaged during class though, he’ll need something small, quiet, and non-distracting (to himself and others).
  2. If using the fidget toys during therapy sessions, kids choose ONE fidget toy and stick with it the entire time (no changing fidget toys unless it’s necessary). You don’t want the use of fidget toys to become a source of constant annoyance to you or distraction from your target activities. Therefore, let kids know ahead of time that they can choose one fidget, but must stick with it for the whole session. That means no whining about hating the color or shape after 2 minutes!
  3. Do some explicit teaching of how to use the fidget toy(s) in an expected way. Kids see a rubbery hair band and their immediate thought is: sling shot!!!!! Or, they see a squishy ball and are hard-wired to launch it across the room or roll is across the table! It’s our job to teach our clients the expectations of how to use their fidgets so they can be successful with them. As silly as you might feel demonstrating their use, you’ll be thankful in the long run!

Having seen the positive effects of fidget toys during group therapy, I’m a big believer in their benefits for the kids who need that type of support! I hope this post has given you a spring board for finding the types of fidget toys that will work best for your clients!


22 thoughts on “The Fidget Toy Awakening”

  1. That is a great idea! I used to have my basket of fidget balls, just like that! But the kids were distracted, and they wanted to try them all. So instead, I helped the kids make their own, by having them choose a colored balloon, and then using a funnel to add flour to it . We actually used two balloons to make sure it would not leak, so we tied a knot in the first, put it into the second balloon, and then they each had their very own fidget! No more asking to trade!


  2. Great article Hanna ! As an SLP I have a table storage of personal fidgets in the form of pens/pencils. I’m always amazed at what is out there in terms of useful tools. I have a variety of pens/pencils that light up, one where a fluffy ball pops off the end, the squshy airfilled kind, ones with spikes, feathers, animals who’s eyes that pop out, fluffy pom-poms, hairy people, and of course there is all the auditory bells and whistles; although, I do not leave these kind at the table I do have a separate basket with recorders/auditory variety we use on occasion. My students know they are each allowed one writing utensil, and there are no trades unless they both mutually agree after a first suggestion. Intially, I was not going to share, because I felt it was too much of a distraction; however, I soon learned that this would be a good opportunity to provide some functional instruction on communication skills. !!


  3. Working in early childhood…fidgets are a MUST! What I’ve learned over the years, especially for our kiddos with ASD, to have a box ready with some tried and true fidgets (for the younger kids that first picture above is just PERFECT) and when its large or small group time, set the box out and let the child pick and choose what he would like to play with. Yes it will completely distract him from what is being taught initially but if the problem is sitting (as it usually is the first step) these fidgets and distractions are a MUST. And yes for younger children…they must be able to switch out fidgets according to their attention span! Appropraite developmental and cognitive expectations are important to remember. Once the child learns to sit with the group, then we can work on attending…and I usually still used the same fidgets b/c once they got used to the fidgets they still played with them WHILE attending to group. It is a training process but fidgets work! Anyway, just my experience. I thought I could share for anyone who is working with the little ones! Great post!


    1. Thank you for the fantastic insight! It’s so wonderful to hear how fidgets are being used with very young children, since my experience has been with elementary-aged kids.


  4. Hi- I am a Certified Child Life Specialist and the first basket is full of what we call “Distraction Toys” which we use to help distract kids from medical procedures (if that is what they need).
    I am always also seeking out good Fidgets which DO NOT distract for my work with kids living with developmental challenges for when I am working on educating them about medical procedures.. Thanks for a great post!


  5. Great post! I also created a social story for “Quiet Fidget Toys” to instruct students on their use (middle and high school S/L kiddos). It sets the boundaries for their use and once we’ve reviewed the story, then the kids know what to do with them, what their purpose is and how to keep them. Teachers are made aware of what the “plan” is for the fidgets so the kids can take one with them to their classes to keep on hand. I, too, like the hair bands shown above.


    1. Martha, I kick myself all the time for not thinking to create social stories to teach some of the concepts I’m working on. Using one for providing expected use of fidgets is a fantastic idea. I also love that you pointed out the importance of working with teachers so they know that the plan is with the fidgets-such an important step! If you feel like sharing your social story idea, I’d love to see it (hbogen5@gmail.com)!


  6. One thing I find helpful in the special purpose preschool I work in is not only the demonstration, but stating the expectation. We let them know these are tools not toys and that we use the ones that work for helping us listen better. When that is completed they hand it to an adult or they put it in there lap. The teacher is quite supportive and we are all learning together which fidigits work for which sensory needs, it is individualized, not one which works for each class. The ages of my kiddos is 4 and 5. Age is hugely important, as listening and cognitive and attention skills develop, so too do sensory skills, depending on the need of the kiddo, some should calm and some should stimulate. Thanks for addressing the fidigt needs for kids


    1. Thanks Erin! I am all about stating expectations for kids before jumping into some kind of activity. I love that you give your kids a blueprint for expected behavior with these tools so they have a fighting chance of actually using them in an expected way. Great point!


  7. At our center we have “Re-Branded” our fidget TOYS and now call them “Focus TOOLS”. This aligns with our clinic philosophy of telling children what we want them to do, not what we dont’ want them to do and also correctly identifies the items as tools with a purpose rather than toys to be played with.


    1. Diane, this is such a great idea! What a difference a little rebranding can make. I’ll have to try this out! I have yet to call a fidget toy a fidget around a kid, but even changing my lingo with other clinicians can make a huge difference in how I approach using these tools. Thanks!


  8. Happy to see the “rebranding” of toys to tools. It is a point many OT’s will stress when looking into fidgets. Working with older kids, I also remind students as well as pointing to a sign on the wall that simply states. ” A fidget is a tool that helps you pay attention to what you are supposed to be doing, if you are paying attention to your fidget, it is a toy and you will be asked to put it away.”


  9. Your post gave good insight into fidget toys. As an Occupational Therapist, I always recommend fidgets that aren’t visually distracting. I like things that are simple. The hair bands are fit the bill.


  10. I’m a grown up, getting ready to sit for the CPA and can’t take my koosh ball into the testing center! It has helped me focus through weeks of studying. But, I should be able to take a hair tie. The stress of a long test usually gets me focused, but I don’t want to find myself distracted in the situation or chewing on their pencils. Thanks for sharing this.


  11. I had the good fortune to have some teachers teach me to say fidget TOOLS. We learned to introduce the materials and help the kids to understand the difference between using them as toys or TOOLS. If a child started using a fidget as a toy we’d have a conversation about when it is fine to use it as a toy and when it needs to be used as a tool. Even dry young children can grasp this concept which then opes up the number of things that can be productive.


  12. Hi! What fidgets would you suggest for the classroom? I know someone who loves to sharpen his pencil and it distracts him. What could I give as a non-distracting option? Thanks!


    1. Hi Lia,
      If he likes to sharpen his pencil because he likes the feeling of a sharp or rough tip, you could put some self-sticking scratchy Velcro on the edge of his desk to push his hands against, or attach something with spikey tactile feedback to the corner of his desk. If he likes to sharpen his pencil because he likes to get up out of his seat and move around on his way to the pencil sharpener, he might benefit from having a slightly inflated camping cushion or wiggle seat on his chair to provide him regular sensory input. Some kids also benefit from theraband around the legs of their chairs so they can push against the band for regular resistance. Hope that helps!


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