Fidget toys like fidget spinners and fidget cubes have become increasingly popular over the last several years. But do these toys actually help children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) manage their symptoms? Specifically, can fidget cubes improve focus, concentration, and impulse control in kids with ADHD? Let’s take an evidence-based look at the potential benefits and limitations of fidget cubes for children with attention and hyperactivity issues.
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, estimated to affect around 9.4% of children in the United States. The core symptoms include difficulty sustaining attention, excessive activity and fidgeting, and impulsivity. Kids with ADHD often have a hard time sitting still, waiting their turn, controlling restlessness, and resisting distractions in school. When symptoms are not properly managed, ADHD can lead to problems with academics, relationships, and self-esteem.
Traditional treatments for childhood ADHD include therapy, school interventions, training for parents, and stimulant medications like Ritalin. However, many parents are wary of medicating their children, particularly at young ages, due to concerns about side effects. This has increased interest in alternative, non-drug tools to help children with ADHD regulate attention, behavior, and impulses. Fidget cubes have emerged as one popular option. But how well do they work?
Fidget cubes are small, palm-sized cubes with buttons, switches, gears, and other sides that can be clicked, flipped, spun, slid, and rolled. They are designed to give restless hands and minds something to occupy themselves with. The theory is that fidget cubes can help channel nervous energy into discrete fidgeting motions, rather than disruptive fidgeting behaviors like tapping feet or drumming hands on the desk. This type of object manipulation provides sensory stimulation that may help improve focus by engaging parts of the brain that regulate movement and attention. The underlying idea is based on sensory integration therapy techniques.
While this rationale makes logical sense, what does the research actually tell us about fidget cubes’ effectiveness for kids with ADHD? Overall, the evidence is very limited at this point. But here is a quick summary of findings from the few relevant studies that exist:
- A small 2018 study in the journal Child Neuropsychology had children with ADHD use a fidget cube during an executive functioning task. The fidget cube improved impulse control and attention.
- A 2019 study in the Journal of Attention Disorders found fidget cubes helped increase time on task and academic performance in high school students with ADHD. Students reported the cubes helped them concentrate.
- A 2020 pediatric study had elementary school students use fidget cubes or plain foam cubes during class. The fidget cube group showed more on-task behavior and less fidgeting after 3 weeks.
- Interviews with teachers and occupational therapists generally suggest allowing fidget cube use can reduce excessive movement and restless behaviors in children with ADHD.
However, nearly all published studies on fidget cubes have very small sample sizes, limited duration of fidget cube use, and lack comparison groups. The evidence is not yet strong enough to make definitive conclusions. More large-scale, rigorous research is required to truly determine effectiveness.
There are also important caveats to consider:
- Fidget cubes alone are not a cure or full treatment for ADHD. At best, they are a supplemental tool to be used along with therapy, teaching strategies, medication if necessary, etc.
- The research has not identified which ages or types of ADHD symptoms respond best to fidget cubes. More study is needed.
- Results seem to vary a lot depending on the individual child, their needs, and ADHD subtype. Fidget cubes may help some kids more than others.
- Too much distraction from fidget cubes could potentially backfire and harm focusing. Appropriate use expectations should be set.
- Fidget cubes can pose choking hazards for younger children. Supervision is advised.
While fidget cubes show promise for aiding focus and managing restlessness in some children with ADHD, more rigorous research is required to substantiate benefits, long-term impacts, optimal use guidelines, and safety. Parents, doctors, and teachers should closely monitor whether fidget cubes appear helpful for an individual child’s needs. Set realistic expectations, and use fidget cubes as just one part of a comprehensive ADHD management plan that also includes evidence-based therapies, teaching strategies, parent support, and medical treatment if warranted. With sensible guidelines in place, fidget cubes may offer a drug-free option to help some kids better control ADHD symptoms in school and at home.