Monday with Maureen: “Playground ‘Fads’ Can Be the Social Glue for Kids With Disabilities”

Author: Janie Townsend, Assistant Manager at Mindful Toys/therapy-puppy-in-training wrangler/dark chocolate enthusiast.

Scanning The Mighty last week, I found a piece written by Emma Pierce, who works in special education and resource development for kiddos with disabilities. She challenges the assertion that any playground fad should be banned or snuffed out without exception for the sake of maintaining order in a classroom environment, which caught and held my attention in light of the raging popularity of fidget spinners this spring and summer.

Personally, I’ve been frustrated with the spinner sensation. Don’t get me wrong, I have a fidget spinner myself and I love it. I have pals who benefit greatly from having a motion-based fidget, a cycle of weighted movement neutralizing anxiety and fulfilling sensory-seeking needs. For folks who need some help self-regulating, the spinners are brilliant. But their popularity as a cool toy has them exiled from many schools, and openly judged by parents who haven’t been given the opportunity to see their usefulness. Plus, the knowledge that some manufacturers can pump out cheaply, poorly made spinners and still make a buck due to their popularity annoys me to no end, now that I’m used to working with vendors who prioritize product quality since so much of their stock is geared toward the development and comfort of kids with sensory processing needs.

All this is to emphasize that Pierce’s post humbled me and educated me about how popular toys, whether dubbed “fads” or not, can be the saving grace for social stragglers. Children who find interaction and social situations daunting might receive quicker acceptance into a group if they have a spinner of their own, or the latest deck of Pokemon cards, or a retro lunchbox, or whatever the “cool” thing is at that moment in time. Kids who may come off as “weird” to other children for any reason suddenly have a common denominator, and can more easily practice making and keeping friends.

As someone who vividly remembers the day my mom drove my brother and I to a toy store half an hour away for Kaiba decks during the Yu-Gi-Oh card craze (before my smallish Texas town had toll roads or a nearby Target), I can safely say I never realized these phases allowed kids to slide more easily into relationships with one another. Even so, it makes total sense. I could chat with any classmate about the latest episode of the show or my favorite playing card, regardless of whether I knew or even particularly liked them. So I’m reconsidering my judgments about the unruliness of the current hand spinner fever, trying to be more aware of how such a small thing, whether or not it’s used properly or manufactured lovingly, can improve a child’s quality of life.

Give Pierce’s post a read, and if you have kiddos with spinners of Pokemon cards or metal lunchboxes (you get cool parent points for that one, by the way), maybe have them read it, too. Just so they know how powerful their playground playing can be.

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