“If I have to read one more post about those bloody fidget spinners I’ll…”
Hi, my name is Queerly Autistic, and I am in love with my fidget spinner. I adore it. My family, my friends and my work colleagues have become very well adapted to the soothing whhhiiiirr of this weighted whizzing slice of sensory heaven. At the end of the day, the tip of my ring finger, as well as the pad of my index finger and thumb, tingle pleasantly from the weight of a million constant rotations. If I twist my hand ever so slightly whilst it is spinning, the pressure against my fingers and the weight of the toy is so fabulously wonderful that I will happily go about the rest of my daily tasks with one hand weaving in an endless dance of joy.
Fidget spinners are, we have been led to believe by the press, the new thing. All the kids are doing it. I’ve even heard on the grapevine that there are tricks you can perform with them – even further on down the grapevine, I heard that there were whole tutorial videos on YouTube detailing what amazing feats you can achieve.
And there are some pretty decent pluses to this sudden surge in popularity for what is, essentially, a stimming toy.
For one thing, they are now readily – and cheaply – available. So many stim toys I have sought over the years have been desperately expensive, and I have had to sit back and be half-satisfied with my poor wad of Blu-Tak. Now, I have been able to get hold of a pretty good quality stim toy – one that is incredibly effective for me personally – for less than £10. I would say that that is a huge bonus; many autistic people cannot afford the £40, £50, 75 and beyond that the things that would make our lives easier often are, so to have something like this brought into the main market, made so accessible, is wonderful.
When the local corner shop sells stimming toys that previously I would have had to trawl the internet for, that is incredible.
Another hugely positive repercussion of this mainstreaming is the mainstreaming itself. Previously, if I had been outside with a stimming aid, I would have been extremely conscious of the judgemental looks and quizzical stares that I knew were coming my way. But now? Suddenly, I’m seeing people with stimming toys everywhere. Neurodivergent people can have the aids they desperately need without people giving them a second glance – they have become normalised, a fact that also enables people who do not wish to disclose, or people who are currently undiagnosed, to access these things without anyone demanding the whys, whats and wherefores of having them.
It is no longer something that shines a spotlight of ‘wow, this must mean you are different.’ And, especially when you are a child, this may be the difference between having a target painted on your back or managing to pass by the bullies unscathed.
However, a downside of this surge in popularity is the inevitable: schools have started to ban them. This is not a new phenomenon – in fact, I think every single ‘craze’ that went through my primary school eventually ended up being banned for some reason or another.
But this isn’t just another ‘craze’.
The loss of these aids could be hugely detrimental to some students. Whereas before they may have been viewed with suspicion and judgement for having a stimming toy, now the judgement is gone but so has the accessibility of the stimming toy. The more I sorted through the essence of the issue in the mind, I was able to come up with three clear and equally devastating consequences of blanket school bans on fidget spinners:
- Neurodivergent people who need them will have to fight for permission to use them.
- Neurodivergent people will be forced to disclose that they are neurodivergent to everyone simply by being given permission to use them.
- Undiagnosed neurodivergent people will have access to vital aids completely denied as they will not be able to bring the proper ‘neurodivergence card’ to get permission to use them.
These are all very bad things.
In fact, I began to see reports of bans that were beginning to spread – one school praised some of their ‘amazing’ students for requesting that the fidget spinners be banned, and then went on to say that it would not impact the neurodiverse children in their school because they would still be allowed to play with Blu-Tak.
As you can imagine, this attitude struck my ‘nope’ button so hard that it activated every single switch in my body, sending a wave of indignant rage spewing from every conceivable pore: neurodivergent kids were suffering and we needed parents to ‘STOP BUYING YOUR NEUROTYPICAL CHILDREN STIMMING/CONCENTRATION AIDS AS TOYS’. It was a knee jerk reaction from someone who has been that child, who has been that adult, who has desperately needed just the smallest of aids but has been unable to access them. The thought of smaller versions of me finding solace in these spinning wheels of joy, and then having them snatched away because other children were using them as toys in school, made my heart hurt and my blood boil. And I exploded. All over social media.
This could have been embarrassing. But it wasn’t. This was a good thing.
People talked to me. People from different sides of the argument; people with different solutions; people with different experiences and stories that all came together in a wonderful show of diversity and divergence.
And I realised that this is not the answer.
Neurotypical kids seeing stimming/concentration aids as normal parts of life is a good thing. If children are enjoying these items as ‘normal’ toys, it can also be explained to them why, for some people, it is so much more than a toy. This is a chance for education amongst the most malleable and absorbant of minds.
This is a chance for kids to understand. This is a chance to create a generation of adults who understand. This is a chance to change the culture from the very roots. This is a little, almost subterfuge way to stop any other people going through what I went through in school.
There are, of course, stipulations in my new trail of thinking: mainly, that parents who buy these items as toys, and whose children are clearly using them as toys, should firmly discourage that these children bring the items to school. Or, if this fails, schools should take more precise and invidualised action – for example, taking them away just from children if they are doing anything other than quietly spinning, rather than sweeping through the building like a hawk snatching any and all fidget spinners from unsuspecting little fingers.
I don’t know if this is possible.
There are many people out there with more informed, more knowledgeable, and more eloquent solutions than I can ever bring forward. I would encourage everyone to seek them out. Be hungry for neurodivergent voices speaking on neurodivergent issues. Devour every single sentence.
I don’t know, ultimately, what the answer is.
But I do know that I will keep spinning.
For every person who complains on social media about how annoying they find this new fad, I will shoot back that the gentle spinning of the little plastic instrument is a lot less annoying than a twenty-five year old woman descending into meltdown in a public space. For everyone rolled eye at the whisper-like whhiirrr between my fingers, I will gaze back with the knowledge that this is at least 37% less irritating than me tapping my foot incessantly on the floor.
For everyone who complains that their day is slightly ruined, or in some way inconvenienced, by the dark shadow of an evil fidget spinner, I know that I have avoided a day for myself that ends in overload, meltdown, and shutdown. I know that my dogs won’t be anxiously trying to comfort me; I know that my family won’t be struggling against me as I lash out verbally; I know that I can come home, and smile, and talk about my day, and then calmly go to bed ready for the next.
And I definitely care more about that than I care about your opinion of my fidget spinner.