Some people jiggle their leg—others click their pens or doodle in their notepads. Fidgeting and finding outlets to control these ticks aren’t new, but there is a trendy toy that has spun its way into the hands of consumers everywhere to help channel these urges.
A fidget spinner is a palm-sized toy that has a central core and usually 2-3 propeller-like blades that users can spin with two fingers. The kid’s toy is said to relieve nervous energy, even calming ADHD and psychological stress.
“They really came fast out of nowhere,” said Flora Stelzer, co-owner of Shananigans Toy Shop in Roland Park, whose original supply of fidget spinners didn’t last long before they had to order more. “We would get 10 phone calls a day from people asking us to look for them. We had kids line up after school waiting for them.”
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Stelzer says the popularity started for her store in April, when kids ages 6-14 would ask for the toy in high demand.
But, in reality, the origin for the fidget spinner dates back further. While there is no clear inventor of the product, Catherine Hettinger is cited as being the creator of the toy by The New York Times and The Guardian because of a “spinning toy” she got a patent for in 1997. But Hettinger acknowledges that there is no concrete connection between her own invention and the fidget spinner.
The little gadget has taken over the Internet and is sold by everywhere from Amazon to street vendors. Videos of fidget spinner tricks have gone viral, with one YouTube video garnering more than 42 million views.
Unlike most toys that have had their five minutes of fame (think slime or hoverboards), these spinners claim to actually be helpful to users rather than solely existing for entertainment.
Dr. Pilar Trelles, a psychiatrist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, acknowledges the benefits in an interview with health.com and encourages using gadgets like this along with actual treatments. Trelles admits that the effectiveness of these spinners depend on each individuals place on anxiety/autism/ADHD spectrums, so it won’t work for everyone.
One post on Amazon furthers this and claims that they can be “helpful for anxiety, focusing, ADHD, autism, quitting bad habits, staying awake. Definitely a blessing for someone with a nervous disorder where keeping the hands busy is a symptom.”
While fidget spinners have primarily been used as entertainment or an anxiety reducer, they can also be a source of scientific inspiration. Such is the case for artist C. Harvey, the mobile maker manager at Open Works in Greenmount West.
Coming from an engineering background, Harvey noticed that there weren’t enough high quality and relevant STEM programs for black youth so she wanted to introduce 3D printing technology, in a way that was non-intimidating and relatable to their lives.
“These kids don’t relate to making sailboats or robots, so I asked them what they would want to invent if they had 5 million dollars and they said fidget spinners,” Harvey said.
So with 3D printing pens in hand, Harvey went over to a local recreation center to meet with kids K-8 and that’s exactly what they did. The kids were excited to make their own spinners, and learned a lot about how to use advanced technology the entire time.
With that said, not everyone has such a positive attitude towards these toys. Though many find the spinning to be calming, others find the spinning to be incredibly distracting. So much so that schools and some individual teachers from multiple states including Florida, Connecticut, and New York have already banned these toys from classrooms.
According to a report on WMAR, spokesmen for the Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County Public School systems say they haven't experienced any problems to impose a similar district-wide ban.
Though this gadget seems to be taking the world by storm, Stelzer at Shananigans is sure that this is only a fad. She laughs and says, “they’ll be on to something else soon, maybe even by the time you print this.”