By: Abigail DesVergnes
A gadget designed to help kids with ADHD focus has become so distracting that it’s being banned in many schools.
Sales of fidget spinners — a small, handheld gadget resembling a mini fan with three weighted prongs that, when gripped with the thumb and middle finger, will spin around and around and around — has exploded and become the must-have item for children and teens.
The gadget was designed in the 1990s to help children struggling with ADHD, anxiety and autism. Now, 20 years later, it’s become one of the most popular items in the toy industry.
Keith Lambert, owner of New England Novelty — a vendor that sets up sales tents and specializes in selling sports apparel and holiday flowers in the Attleboro area — is not just selling flowers this Mother’s Day weekend, but fidget spinners, too. All week, Lambert sold fidget spinners at his tents dotted throughout the Attleboro area, including one that was set up next to the D’angelo’s sub shop in South Attleboro.
Several months ago, Lambert ordered his first shipment of spinners after fellow salesmen in the area told him it was going to be the next big thing.
“My initial reaction was that it was going to sell just like every other toy, but boy was I wrong,” he said.
Since his first order, the spinners have made up 75 percent of Lambert’s growth sales — higher than any other item he’s sold. Compare that to the bubble gun, the second most purchased toy that Lambert sells. It spiked to just 30 percent of his sales. “This has been crazy,” Lambert added. “I’ve never seen a product sell like this.”
Now Lambert is receiving shipments every day, and with each shipment, his stands will sell out in hours.
“It’s all because of the kids, and once they have one, they want another, whether it’s a different color, or one that lights up,” he said.
Dylan Ilkowitz, a senior at Attleboro High School, bought his fidget spinner for $6 at a Mansfield convenience store.
“I just bought one as a joke really and because it’s become a huge fad, but after I bought it, I realized it’s actually really fun and satisfying to mess around with,” he said.
But that “fun” is getting to many students and teachers, according to Dylan Nisbet, an eighth-grader at Brennan Middle School in Attleboro.
“I usually use it mindlessly through the day, but some kids just won’t put them down,” he said.
And it’s this obsessive playing that has stirred issues in some schools.
Charley McKenna, a seventh-grader at Coelho Middle School in Attleboro, said she’s relieved that her school decided to ban the spinners in class unless it is used for a specific purpose, like managing ADHD.
“During class, all I could hear was the spinning of the fidget spinners and many of my friends couldn’t concentrate,” McKenna said.
She also said she notices teachers are being ignored by some students participating in the spinning. The same students will ask, “Wait, what are we doing,” once the teacher moves along to the next lesson, she said. “This distraction slows down the lesson we are learning.”
And during lunch and passing time in the halls when fidget spinning is allowed: “Everyone is using them,” she said.
Like Coelho, Brennan and Wamsutta also banned the item unless a student has a documented need to use the spinners during class.
“When used appropriately and according to that need, fidgets can be useful and practical tools for select students,” Brennan Principal Frederick Souza said in an email. “However, fidgets can also act as a distractor in the classroom when used by a multitude of students. It is for this reason that we limit their use to those students with a documented need.”
The issue hasn’t yet become a problem at the high school level.
“As of now, we have not had an issue with them at the high school,” Attleboro High principal Bill Runey said. “ I know that the lower levels are struggling with them, but at the high school level we try to allow students to work off any stress or anxiety that they have in an appropriate manner. As long as the spinner is not a distraction to the teacher or the other students, I feel that it can be helpful.”
Christine Ouimet, 33, of Attleboro and mother of three, recently uploaded a video on Facebook of her son showing off some of his talented fidget spinning tricks. In slow-motion, she captured her 12-year-old spinning the gadget using only his pointer finger before he threw it up in the air.
Ouimet said her children use their spinners often around the house, but she recently barred them from bringing the toys to school.
“I feel like it was getting to be too much of a problem,” said Ouimet, adding that she sympathizes with teachers who have to discipline a class of students who won’t stop using their spinners.
“It has gone a little crazy and it’s not being used as it was intended to be,” she said.