If you’ve been awake any time in the last 5 years, then chances are, you’ve heard about Fidget Spinners. These fun toys have been all the craze—one that few of us understand and many of us have chalked up to the shenanigans of youth. But, contrary to popular belief, they aren’t just another Millennial or Gen Z fad!
Nope. Fidget Spinners are an example of what many call “fidget toys” but what others, particularly people with autism and ADHD, call “stim toys.”
But why the difference?
Stim toys are meant to replace stimming, a practice which people with autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorders know well. Stimming—also known as self-stimulatory behaviors—are repetitive, almost ritualistic activities that let out nervous energy, regulate feelings of overwhelm, and help an overstimulated or under-stimulated brain return to focus. These can range from humming, rocking, pacing, hand flapping, and foot tapping to skin picking, knuckle popping, hair twirling, object rearranging, repetition of words or phrases, or even staring off into space. The list is exhaustive and every person’s combination of behaviors is unique, but at its core, stimming is used to tune out other sensory information or distractions that might be preventing the person from feeling comfortable or functioning normally in the moment.
Fidgeting, on the other hand, is a practice to curb stress and anxiety but is done less frequently and isn’t necessarily a coping mechanism for sensory issues. This is why all fidget toys can be stim toys, but not all stim toys can be fidget toys.
So guess what?! This means, to a certain degree, we all “stim” to maintain our state of regulation—to stay our coolest, calmest, and most collected selves. Ever been told you click your pen when you’re nervous? Ever been caught biting your fingernails while under stress? Yep! The only difference is, you may not struggle to manage these habits or feel extreme discomfort if you don’t engage in them, whereas around 30% of the US population does.
If you or your child falls into that category, here are some things you should consider when choosing a stim toy:
Materials. Since stimming happens regularly, often multiple times a day, the toy you choose needs to last. Ask yourself, “Is the toy well-made and durable? Is it an investment?”
Textures. Does the person using the tool like smooth, hard, bumpy, or soft textures? As mentioned above, stimming preferences will vary depending on the person.
Location and portability. Is this a toy that needs to be functional in most environments? Will it be taken to school or the office? If so, make sure it’s small, lightweight, and easy to assemble. You might even pick one that fits in your pocket or attaches to a key ring.
Sensory details. Loudness, colors, lights, smell—these are all details that you’ll have to determine are, or are not, right for you. So before you begin your search, identify the areas you want to focus on.
Budget. There are plenty of stim toys that won’t break the bank, so don’t feel like you have to spend $100 to get a good one.
And here are our favorite stim toys on the market yet:
- Art Creativity Classic Pin Art Game. You can find this classic on Amazon.
- Long Shot Toy for Hair & Skin Picking Support. Order it on Etsy.
- D FantiX Unequal Mirror Cube. Get yours at autastic.com.
- Crazy Aaron’s Putty Aromatherapy SCENTsory Tins for kids! Check them out here.
- Our Top Pick: Bruce Charles Design’s Schulte Brass Spinning Top! At less than $30, it’s affordable, durable, portable, requires no assembly, and is functional and effective anywhere, with spins of up to 12 minutes to engage your mind for significant periods of time. View it and our other tops here.
It’s like we said: These toys are no trend. They’re here to stay! We hope you find the one that works best for you.