Stim Tools Versus Toys in the Classroom

Fidget spinners seem to be all the rage these days. Parents can buy them for themselves or their kids for as little as a few bucks on Amazon. They are widely available at gas stations and convenience stores. Many people claim they are for ADHD, and that they help them concentrate or focus on the tasks at hand. Is this true?

Stimming is where an individual with neurodevelopmental disability seeks to self stimulate through repeated physical movement, sounds, or manipulation of objects. The repeated actions or sounds can help a person alleviate anxiety and/or rein in chaotic nerve/neuron impulses and signals. Therefore, stim tools/toys can be effective for children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities when taught and used appropriately.

Place in Schools/Education

Stim tools/toys can be included in a child’s IEP or 504 as an educational tool to help with focus and work completion. Tools should be chosen by the IEP/504 team–including an assistive technology specialist–that are effective for the child without being distracting to the child and limiting distractions to other students as much as possible. Assistive technology assessment is mandatory in the creation of all IEPs and 504s; therefore, no special exceptions need to be made in including stim tool/toy selection for students who are suspected of needing one. Standard assistive technology assessment procedures should be followed for stim tools/toys as with any other assistive technology device or service.

Like any piece of assistive technology (AT), children need to be taught how to use stim tools/toys appropriately in the classroom, home, or workplace. Not all stim tools/toys will be effective for all students with neurodevelopmental disabilities who need them. Some stim tools/toys will be effective for a short time before a new device or strategy is needed. Teaching should accompany any new device or strategy that is decided upon by the IEP/504 team.

Tool or Toy?

When is a stim tool/toy merely a toy? The answer is simple (and has been given repeatedly by professionals and those with disabilities): when it is being used as a toy and not a stim tool/toy. If the child is merely playing with the device, instead of using it to help with concentration on a particular task, then it is a standard toy; a distraction like any other toy would in the classroom.


Now, you may be questioning in your mind “how do I make a stim tool/toy effective in the classroom instead of a distraction?” The key is teaching! We teach kids how to use pencils to write, how to construct mind maps and outlines for papers, and how to play with toys and sporting equipment appropriately. The same applies to stim tools/toys. Teach the student how to use the object to improve focus. Model appropriate use of the object. Give examples of inappropriate use of the object. Practice some scenarios. Give feedback when the child is using the object appropriately (as a tool) and when the object is being used inappropriately (as a toy). If teaching device use appears to be failing then consider switching to a different object or adjusting you teaching approach before complete stim tool/toy abandonment.


Many students do not need stim tools/toys. What they need is to be taught the proper time and place for work and for play. Teachers become aggravated when those lines are not taught properly in the home. However, this does not mean that all so-called stim tools/toys are impostors. Some students will need them. It is up to teachers to collaborate with trained special education specialists to determine which students need them and the appropriate course of action for teaching the student how to use the stim tool/toy chosen to help in the classroom.

Teachers and Administrators: collaborate, plan, and teach for those students with disabilities or who may be in the process of being evaluated. Those students deserve every opportunity to succeed.

Parents: If your child does not have a disability, then keep the toys at home. There is a time and a place for work and for play.

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