Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often persists into adulthood. People with ADHD may have trouble focusing, sitting still, controlling impulsive behaviors, and managing time.
In recent years, fidget toys like Pop Its have become extremely popular, especially among children. Pop Its are simple toys made of flexible silicone that make a popping sound when pushed inside out. They can be popped continuously in a satisfying tactile and auditory stimulation. Parents of children with ADHD have begun using fidget toys like Pop Its as a tool to help their kids focus, redirect energy, and relieve stress in school, at home, and in other settings. But is there evidence that these toys actually help with ADHD symptoms?
There has been limited formal research specifically on Pop Its, but some studies suggest fidget toys in general may have modest benefits for improving attention and reducing hyperactivity in both children and adults with ADHD.
In one 2021 study published in the journal BMC Psychology, researchers tested 24 adults with ADHD using a battery of computer tasks designed to evaluate attention and inhibition. The participants completed the tasks multiple times – first without a fidget toy, then while using a fidget toy like a rubber ball or plastic cube made for anxiety reduction. When using the fidget toy, the participants showed significant improvements in sustained attention and vigilance-related inhibition.
Another recent study in Frontiers in Psychology looked at use of therapy putty – a moldable, stretchy fidget toy – in 51 elementary school kids with ADHD over a 6 month period. Teacher and parent ratings revealed the putty helped reduce hyperactivity and restlessness in the classroom for up to 4 months into the research study. 65% of the children wanted to continue using therapy putty long-term.
Experts theorize that allowing tactile sensory stimulation with items like fidget toys can provide outlets for physical restlessness and nervous energy. This may allow better ability to sit still, focus cognitively, and regulate behavior. Fidget toys may help channel excess energy and stimulation into the hands and fingers, opening capacity to absorb other information and concentrate. Kids with ADHD often instinctively tap their hands or play with nearby items, so providing fidget toys gives these instincts a productive outlet.
Sensory stimulation tools can serve as coping outlets to calm the anxiety many people with ADHD experience around controlling behavior in school, social, or work settings – allowing them to channel nervous tendencies into silent fidgeting. The dopamine released when playing with tactile toys may also assist with ADHD-related deficits in the neurotransmitter. This can yield a calming, centering effect and release tension linked to hyperactivity or impulsivity.
While existing research indicates sensory toys like Pop Its show initial promise for helping mitigate some ADHD symptoms, most studies emphasize the effects are small. More rigorous research is needed – particularly directly testing the impacts of the high-popularity Pop It toys themselves. Experts conclude fidgets are not singular solutions or substitutes for ADHD medication and therapy – but they may provide a supplemental support tool as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
It’s important for parents and teachers not to see fidget toys as quick fixes to attention and hyperactivity issues. But they can be one small aid among many – including medications, behavioral intervention strategies, academic/work accommodations and more – that together help counter the challenges of ADHD. When integrated alongside evidence-backed therapies tailored the individual’s needs, fidget toys may assist some people as sensory supports.
As the name suggests, experts advise such toys are likely best used for “fidgeting” – silent, subtle tactile stimulation in the hands and fingers that does not distract others. They caution that allowing use of fidgets should always come with reasonable rules about not disturbing peers with loud, excessive popping. Educators recommend schools set guidelines around appropriate fidget toy use to keep it reasonably quiet and ensure students with ADHD don’t become overly focused on the toys instead of learning. Finding the proper supporting role for sensory tools most constructive for the individual and setting remains an ongoing process.
In summary, while existing research is still quite limited, there is budding evidence to suggest fidget toys like Pop Its may have some benefits for improving focus and calming hyperactivity associated with ADHD in both kids and adults – at least for some individuals. More research directly on the popular Pop It anti-stress toys themselves would be helpful to better determine effectiveness. It is critical such toys are not viewed as substitutes for well-evidenced medications and therapies, but with reasonable implementation, they may provide a sensory outlet to help some people better manage ADHD symptoms. Ongoing work is needed to give insight into best practices for using fidget toys appropriately and productively alongside other treatment strategies tailored for those with attention and hyperactivity deficits.