There’s been a lot of talk about annoyance at the main-streaming of stim-toys like fidget spinners.
It seems like every child I know has one. In some ways it’s been lovely seeing something designed for Neurodiverse people, being taken up by the mainstream. But then came the inevitable backlash, because it’s a loophole in many schools’ policies on toys. Toys aren’t allowed, but this is a stim-toy, they are.
How can one object be two very different things? Well, it’s all down to the brain using them.
I want to explain how I work, what techniques I use to keep this overactive brain of mine under control.
Picture an evening in the Rhi-household. The kids are in bed, Mr Rhi and I are pretending that there isn’t any washing up to do right now, and taking a moment to collapse.
Then we realise that we were going to discuss changing electricity suppliers, oh the joy and glamour that is my life. What do I do? I pull out my phone and start playing solitaire as we discuss figures. I don’t look at my husband as we talk. I’m moving cards around on a screen. It’s all patterns to me and no matter how hard I try to make it, the solving of the puzzles blossom in front of me.
All the while we are discussing practicalities. I glance occasionally at the relevant figures, but other than that you’d think I was completely distracted by my phone.
I’m not. I’m focused entirely on the job in hand. I’m running the different options through my head, doing a cost-benefit analysis, working out the logistics and coming to conclusions.
Whenever concentration is needed, I have a choice. I can choose to look interested and as though I’m concentrating, I can sit still, and smile appropriately, or I can look entirely disinterested and disconnected and actually listen and think.
I wrote my dissertation whilst bombarding my brain with information to keep it focused. It’s how I work best. I cannot block the sensory world out the way most people do. But I can redirect my senses to one pleasant sensation, and keep it tamed.
Most children focus on whatever it is they are playing with. In these hands stim-toys are not stim-toys, they’re just toys. They’re not an aid to concentration. They’re a hinderance. They don’t work. They’re just good old-fashioned fun.
I’ve read articles slamming them as monstrous, followed by a brief disclaimer saying “of course kids with needs should still be allowed them”, because nothing teaches children to be kind like everyone vilifying the toy you love, but letting the child who’s a bit different keep theirs. (sarcasm)
A stim-toy is not a stim-toy unless it is used to stim. It sounds like some awful joke. When is a stim-toy not a stim-toy? When it’s a toy.
We as adults need to be careful about how we talk about these things. Concentration aids are essential in classrooms for those who need them. It didn’t need the disproportionate response. If you don’t let an uninjured child use crutches in your classroom, then it’s fine to say no to any toy that isn’t a stim-toy (again using the definition that only a toy used for stimming is a stim-toy). No drama. No outrage. No childish response. No outrage. Just a bit of sense and kindness.
I need to stim. Even when my stupid hypermobile joints are painful, I need to stim. It hits me somewhere deep inside my head, like warm honey on cold butter. It soothes and helps and makes the world softer and less metallic. Don’t tell me to stop. Don’t highlight my difference, just accept it and skim past.
Tl;dr version: Anything can be a “stim”; looking at shadows, splashing water, rubbing a tissue between your fingers, what makes it a stim is the effect on the person doing it. If it aids concentration and brain-calming, then it’s stimming. If it’s just fun, then it’s not. A stim-toy is not a stim-toy if it’s being used as a toy, no matter what the label says.