Fidgeting — It’s Not Just for Kids
Fidget toys or games can help adults with ADHD keep their eye on the prize, too.
Reviewed on May 17, 2019
We usually think of fidget toys as a great way to help kids with ADHD pay attention. Adults diagnosed with ADHD need them as much as kids do. Why should kids have all the fun? Actually, it’s not fun that fidget toys provide, but focus.
How can that be, asks the co-worker who’s annoyed by the fidgeting, or the spouse who regards fidgeting as immature behavior, or the supervisor who says, “Stop fiddling around and get to work”?
ADHD Brains Need to Vent
People with ADHD, of all ages, have so much going on in their brains that there is a neurological spillover, an excess of neurological discharge that needs an outlet. This is where fidget toys can be invaluable. Instead of suppressing the overflow until the individual explodes, making a big mess, embarrassing himself or herself, and maybe getting into trouble, a fidgety person can find an outlet through a toy.
If the word “toy” bothers you, give it a new name. How about a “neurological discharge overflow receptor and neutralizer”? Or a “neurological harmonics regulator”? Or a “self-monitored alpha-wave stabilizer”? Of course, it’s still a toy, but since adults like fancy names, why not give it one, since a rose by any other name smells as sweet?
Fidget to Focus
Toys are sweet indeed. They come to the rescue big time. Here are some examples.
1. Tap a pencil during a boring meeting. A pencil (or pen or other writing implement) is a great fidget toy. Just tap it on a soft surface to avoid making noise — the palm of your hand or the top of your thigh will do.
2. Take fake notes. Pretend to write down what others are saying, but write nonsense or play a word game instead. President John Kennedy’s favorite word game went like this: Make a vertical column of six random letters down the left side of a blank piece of paper. To the right of those letters, write a corresponding column of six other random letters. Now you have created six sets of initials. The game is to think of the name of a famous person that fits each set of initials. JFK kept his focus during boring meetings by playing this game.
How could he focus on the meeting if he was focusing on the game? This is the paradox of ADHD. We focus better on one thing by focusing on something else. This is multitasking, and I have cautioned against this many times. But this is a variant on multitasking that actually works. For example, I do all my writing while listening to music. The music engages the part of my brain that would otherwise distract me! So it is with JFK’s game. But be careful, it doesn’t work for everyone. Do a test run at home before doing it at work.
3. Other fidget toys that work for many people with ADHD include: gum (it’s not socially appropriate everywhere); rubber bands; pieces of string; your tongue (playing with your tongue inside your mouth, counting your teeth with your tongue); and playing with your hair.
Do not use screens as fidget toys. They are annoying to others. But do find a favorite fidget toy and use it. It will enhance focus and kill the boredom when you have to pay attention.