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:
- 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).
- 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!
- 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!