If you know a teen, or are one, you’ve probably heard of the latest toy trend: fidget spinners. The small handheld toys are making their way onto social media and into the hands of kids, teens and even adults looking to destress. The toys are simple and small. They feature center bearings that have prongs sticking out that easily spin.

The fidget spinners are marketed as toys that can reduce anxiety and help reduce symptoms of attention disorders and even autism. Descriptions of the toys online say they can help keep fidgety kids keep busy and reduce behaviors like nail biting, leg shaking or other attention challenges.

“Teachers and occupational therapists have been utilizing sensory-motor strategies to improve focus and learning for years,” Lisa Nowinski, director of clinical psychology services at the Massachusetts General Hospital Lurie Center for Autism, told International Business Times.

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The fidget toys aren’t the first to promote this kind of a solution, think of stress balls or even students who knit during college lectures to keep their hands busy or to focus.

“There is evidence to suggest that children with attentional challenges showed improved concentration when they are allowed to move,” Nowinski said. While the fidget spinners making the rounds now haven’t been studied, other tools used in classroom settings have been shown to help students. But as with most approaches to improving attention or learning, nothing is a one size fits all solution.

“There’s no consistent activity that works for everybody. A lot of times it’s trial and error, where a child and their family, and their school staff or their therapist, may help them find something that provides a good outlet for them but also isn’t bothering other people,” Dr. Carolyn Bridgemohan, co-director of the Autism Spectrum Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, told IBT.

Nowinski also emphasized the importance of an individual approach. “It is important to understand the unique learning needs of each child in a classroom in order to determine what supports may actually facilitate their learning and participation,” she said.

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So fidget spinners may help some people focus or feel less anxiety but they’re just one tool that can be used. The goal with using one of these fidget tools or materials is to help the fidgety person adjust or adapt their behavior, Bridgemohan said.

“The whole approach of treating certain kinds of behavior that often occur in kids that are anxious, like nail biting and other kinds of habits, is really based on structured behavior principles of replacing a behavior,” Bridgemohan said. “So you use cognitive strategies to recognize when you’re doing the behavior and try to use other ways to calm or cope and not do the behavior.”

Essentially the goal is to replace an unacceptable behavior that can disrupt others, like pen clicking, nail biting or even throat clearing, with a more acceptable one that doesn’t cause any disruption.

But whether or not the spinners are acceptable replacements for other behaviors is up for debate in schools across the country. Some schools have banned fidget spinners on the grounds that the popular toy actually distracts students and those around them. Such bans prompted the Fidget Spinner Association to announce it would be fighting bans on the toys. The spinners have become such a phenomenon that teens are even doing tricks with them, and timing how long they can spin on one push.  

But the devices need to be used for anxiety and focusing carefully. If using one of these tools helps someone feel less anxious or helps them focus without distracting others, Bridgemohan said she sees no need for that person to see a specialist. But if a child is having a hard time functioning in school, working with a school specialist to figure out why the child is struggling and how to address it is the best move.

“There’s no one fidget that is necessary or required for anybody,” Bridgemohan said. “So I think when things cost money there’s always things that could be adapted that are much lower cost, or no cost, and that’s where working with the school team, perhaps their occupational therapist or other specialist could be appropriate.”