Work Strategies

Fidgeting — It’s Not Just for Kids

Fidget toys or games can help adults with ADHD keep their eye on the prize, too.

A fidget for adults with ADHD.

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.

[The Body-Brain Connection: How Fidgeting Sharpens Focus]

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.

[Where Focus, Fatigue, And Fidgeting Meet]

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.

6 Related Links

  1. Not recommended for everyone but I sit at the back of a choir at the front of a church. Many years ago this involved sitting through a long monotone sermon that no amount of concentrating could overcome the boredom. I developed the habit of counting people in the pews. As we were not a lot higher than the congregation and they kept entering and leaving, repeating it until it was the same usually occupied all the time and surprisingly i rememberred most if not all of the sermon later. Eventually this became handy as the person in the next seat to me became the official counter for the church records. Now he doesnt bother to count unless i am not there . He waits for my number.

  2. Knitting helps tremendously, engaging that part of my brain that might otherwise get distracted so I can’t pay attention to what’s being said. I’ve explained this at church, where I sit in the back during the sermon so my knitting won’t distract the pastor or others up on the platform. Everyone understands it except one particular pastor we have had. I explained it to him several times and provided him with links and resources, but he continues to say that I do it only because I “want to.” Surely I must be able to find something else to do that doesn’t involve knitting and would still allow me to listen, he says. He’s stopped saying anything about it lately, but I think it’s only because he’s given up, not because he understands. I have tried other things — taking notes, handling beads, etc. Nothing works as well as knitting. And when I was taking notes, another person started criticizing, saying why was I “journaling” in church? Apparently she had never been in a church where note-taking was common.

Leave a Reply