Assistive Technology for Fidgeting: The Squidget
Everyone does it - we all reposition our bodies, tap a foot aimlessly, click a pen repeatedly, or flip a pencil to stay focused. Fidgeting behaviors take different forms but they can all be characterized as repetitive motor movements to sustain attention, relieve discomfort, decrease stress or feelings of anxiety, or fend off boredom.
When your mind wanders, so does your ability to pay attention to what you’re supposed to be focusing on. Research has shown that, as your attention decreases, your time on task does as well, and your memory for whatever you may be trying to learn decreases too.
How Do You Fidget?
If you’re an adult in a conference room, it’s likely that you’ve developed a discreet way to stay alert so that your fidgeting doesn’t disturb the people around you. Maybe you fidget with a small paperclip on a desk, or click your pen cap on and off. Doing something subtle with your hands helps you stay alert to the conversation happening around you.
If you’re a person with anxiety, attention deficit disorder, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, or trichotillomania, repetitive movements may or may not be as discreet or controllable. For these people, diagnoses underlie their fidgeting behaviors and the extent to which they fidget may be self-injurious, socially stigmatizing, and in need of redirection.
Here are some common fidgeting behaviors:
pen clicking (pen cap or click on/off)
flipping/twirling small objects (i.e. paperclip)
deep nail pressure stimulation
hair pulling - facial hair, body hair, head
twirling buttons on your shirt
rolling an object on a hard surface
Research conducted by Farley, Risko, and Kingstone highlighted the link between sustained attention, retention of aurally presented lecture content, time on task, and fidgeting behaviors. They found “that fidgeting increases with time on task...as attention decreases with time into a lecture, fidgeting, as a potential route to enhance attention...increases.” This study focused on neurotypical participants.
Barash found that people fidget more while under stress, and Mohiyeddini et al. found that fidgeting appears to mediate the experience of perceived stress in people. The negative relationship between stress and memory has been well documented in research. Now, consider this information from the perspective of someone who has an anxiety disorder, OCD, or their central nervous system is perceiving stress more so than what is considered typical. When we talked about different variations or levels of intensity of fidgeting, these studies are important to keep in mind.
Fidgeting is often associated with people who have a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder because of the hyperactivity that is commonly observable. Now recall how often teachers or adults prompt students with ADHD to sit still, calm down, or stay seated. In a 2015 study published by the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, hyperactive movements associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder were found to help people focus better. Another study published in the Journal of Child Neuropsychology, found that, since hyperactivity is a natural state for children with ADHD, preventing them from fidgeting actually became a distraction and children were better able to learn when allowed to fidget.
The question now becomes, how do you redirect potentially disruptive fidgeting behaviors while still allowing for the necessary and self-regulating movements?
The Squidget Company has developed a product in line with the evidence-based connections between fidgeting, attention, stress, and performance. They have identified the need to “help the different brain to redirect, refocus, calm, center, and succeed” and have designed a fidget tool that directly supports eight common fidgeting behaviors.
Jerry Snee, the “Chief Squidgeter,” deliberately emphasizes that the Squidget is not a toy, but a well-crafted tool to enable participation.