What are Fidget Tools?

Autism Ontario
Child Fidgeting

Fidgeting can be defined as: “making continuous, small movements. These movements do not usually have a particular purpose and you likely make them without meaning to (i.e., when you're bored or nervous)!

While this definition of “fidgeting” may make it sound like a “bad habit," we likely all notice ourselves moving around or “fidgeting” sometimes, and some people may feel that movement (even small movements of our hands and feet) can be calming and regulating. This article aims to explore some tools and strategies that may help you, your child, or your students select fidget tools that work best.

First, let’s review a little bit of background.


What is sensory processing?

Sensory processing is the term used to describe how our nervous system takes in information (sensory input) from the environment, processes this information, and then creates a response or action. Sensory input is also called “stimuli”. It is perceived by our sense organs (e.g. eyes, ears, mouth, nose, skin, muscle, and joint receptors) and then processed by our central nervous system [2].

We may all have different thresholds for sensory stimuli; some people have a low threshold and can only tolerate small amounts of sensation. They may remove stimuli or avoid sensations to protect themselves from feeling over-stimulated [2,3]. For example, someone might wear noise-cancelling headphones to reduce loud noises in a busy shopping centre or school hallway. Others have a high threshold for sensory stimuli and may add or seek out additional stimuli to meet their needs. For instance, someone might chew gum if they are seeking a taste sensation, and movement from their mouth, tongue, and jaw.

For those who seek out or add additional stimuli to meet their needs, it has been suggested that providing sensory tools may help to support regulation [3].

What is “fidgeting?” How does it help?

As we discussed at the beginning of this article, most of us have likely experienced fidgeting. We may wiggle our legs, crack our knuckles, squirm in our seat, twirl our hair, click a pen, or chew on a pencil. Our society has deemed many of these examples of “fidgeting” as socially acceptable, and thus are not perceived as a self-stimulatory activity or “play." Humans were born to move, and many feel these movements may help stimulate or calm our nervous system [4,5].

Recent research on fidgeting in children with a diagnosis of ADHD has shown that movement can help improve skills like attention and memory [6]. In the world of autism and neurodiversity, making fidgeting-type movements may be considered a form of stereotyped or repetitive motor movements (otherwise known as “stims”) [7]. For more information about “stimming," you can check out Autism Ontario’s resource: What is Stimming?

What are “fidget tools?” How do they help?

Many educators and therapists have recognized this natural need and tendency to fidget. In recent years, many schools have offered physical “tools” to support fidgeting in an acceptable and supportive way. The idea is that sensory processing tools or “fidget tools” are a non-intrusive way to meet the sensory needs (or “achieve the threshold”) of students, and therefore help them to learn and perform their best while at school [2].

Unfortunately, there is little research specific to autism that demonstrates that fidget tools can support learning outcomes like engagement or attention. However, there are ways that caregivers, educators, and therapists can help children on the autism spectrum to make the most of these tools.

Choosing a fidget tool:

In general, the most effective fidget tools do not require visual attention (i.e., you don’t need to look at the tool while using it); they offer a chance to move our hands, receive touch input, and direct our “energy” into an object [4]. Put another way, “An effective fidget doesn’t distract you from your primary task because it is something you don’t have to think about” [8]. Examples of fidget tools that serve this purpose are a stress ball or putty.

To guide you in choosing a fidget tool, you may want to consider asking these questions:

  • Sensory preferences: What sensations and textures do you seek out? Which ones do you avoid?
  • Classroom schedule and environment: When do you tend to fidget? Certain times of the day? Certain classes, or spaces?
  • Skills: What are your fine motor skills like? Do you have the hand strength and/or dexterity to manipulate the tool?
  • Safety: Do you tend to put objects in your mouth? Do you like to throw things?

General guidelines for fidget tools include:

  • Safe (i.e., durable, not easily broken)
  • Small (i.e., can be easily stored in a desk, box, backpack or pocket)
  • Quiet (i.e., does not make a lot of noise that will distract others)
  • Inexpensive / affordable

Some examples:

  • Fidget cubes
  • Tangles
  • Pull and stretch figures
  • Koosh balls / spiky balls
  • Velcro (can attach to underside of desk) or fabric (can be sewn into a pocket)
  • Putty or kneadable eraser
  • Smooth pebbles or stones
  • Oral: chewing gum, chewable jewelry (“chewelry”), or pencil toppers

Tips for using fidget tools:

Create some basic “rules” — or guidelines — for using fidget tools in the classroom:

  • Fidgets are meant to be used as a tool, not a toy. As such, fidget tools are to be held in your hands and not tossed in the air, dropped, juggled, thrown, or bounced.
  • Use fidgets at times when concentration is most needed (i.e. short periods throughout the day)
  • You may choose to swap between tools over the course of the day as appropriate
  • When fidgets are not in use, they can be stored in a designated space (desk, backpack, fidget box)

Who can help?
An Occupational Therapist may be able to provide advice or suggestions for fidget tools you can try.


1. Cambridge Dictionary. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fidget (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
2. van der Wurff, I. et al. (2021) The influence of sensory processing tools on attention and arithmetic performance in Dutch Primary School Children, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 209, p. 105143. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2021.105143.
3. Isbister, K. (2017). Fidget toys aren’t just hype. Scientific American: The conversation. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fidget-toys-arent-just-hype (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
4. Biel, L. (2017) Fidget Toys or Focus Tools? Autism File: Sensory Smarts. Available at: https://www.sensorysmarts.com/AADJun17.pdf (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
5. Cloud, J. (2009). Kids with ADHD may learn better by fidgeting, Time Magazine. Available at: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1889178,00.html (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
6. Claflin, C. (2017) The benefits of fidget tools: What research says about ADHD and SPD. Available at: https://therapyshoppe.com/therapists-corner/117-the-benefits-of-fidget-tools (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
7. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
8. Rotz, R and Wright, S. (2021). The Body-Brain Connection: How Fidgeting Sharpens Focus. Available at: https://www.additudemag.com/focus-factors/ (Accessed: 02 August 2023).