I got a fidget spinner last week. I’d heard a lot about them but I’d never encountered one in real life. When I saw a kiosk at the mall was selling them I decided I had to have one. The first thing I asked was if the batteries were included. Turns out fidget spinners don’t need batteries. Oops. Since I have manual dexterity issues my mother questioned whether I would be able to spin a fidget spinner. I did a test spin on a Batman fidget spinner and I managed well enough. I’m not a Batman fan so I did not want that particular fidget spinner. The guy who was selling the fidget spinner asked what my favorite color was and I settled on a purple one.
At first I was underwhelmed by the fidget spinner but as the minutes and hours wore on I grew to appreciate it. There’s something hypnotic, comforting and satisfying about the feel of its centerpiece in your hand, the vision of its blades spinning in a graceful arc, the gentle whirring sound it makes (can you tell I’m having a hard time describing it?) I soon found myself faced with the ultimate first world autistic problem: When you get a fidget spinner and you want to show off your shiny new toy on the internet but you lack the coordination it takes to spin with one hand and record a video on your phone with the other hand.
It took me a few tries but eventually I was able to upload a video of my fidget spinner on to social media. One of my friends commented that she was bothered that fidget spinners had become the next hot commodity because they were designed for a specific purpose and she felt that making them a toy for everyone was disrespectful to those with mental health conditions that required them. Another friend pointed out that perhaps with the introduction of toys like fidget spinners those with mental health issues and special needs would no longer be seen as different and the stigma surrounding them would be lessened.
I can’t complain about fidget spinners being a hot commodity when that’s what enabled me to find them in a kiosk at the mall. I’m more annoyed by the schools that ban them because they’ve been deemed to be too much of a distraction. If they’re going to do that they should make exceptions for kids who have conditions such as ADHD and autism. If fidget spinners are going to reduce the stigma surrounding special needs and mental illness, let’s make them as hot a commodity as possible.
For most of my life fidget spinners have not been a thing but I’ve found my own versions of fidget spinners. My fidget spinners have been leaves, weeds, wild onions and rubber bands. I’ve twirled them in my hands and flapped them in front of my face. I’ve enjoyed fidgeting with those objects but some people have not enjoyed watching me do so. They find it annoying, bothersome and baffling. One of my babysitters thought the onions I played with were snakes at first. These ‘snakes’ tended to give off an odor that some did not appreciate.
When I buy rubber bands I am not buying them for their usual functional purpose. I am buying them for fidgeting purposes. One time I was twirling a rubber band in a college algebra class when the professor said to me in an irritated voice in front of the whole class “Why are you always playing with that piece of string? It drives me crazy!” This was far from the first time in my life I’d been criticized for fidgeting but it was a particularly upsetting and embarrassing instance of it. I was angry that my professor had done that to me so I decided to write him an e-mail. I wrote that I had a physiological need to fidget as a result of being on the autism spectrum. I figured the professor would feel bad about what he said to me and would apologize. The response I got from him was “Thanks for explaining.”
I hate that I owe the world an explanation for my fidgeting. For the longest time I didn’t know how to explain it. All I knew was that for as long as I could remember I had been driven to fidget in the same way I was driven to eat and sleep. I was driven to seek objects to fidget with in the same way my peers were driven to seek friendships with each other. My fidgeting and flapping (along with my lack of peer interaction) were among the first signs that something was ‘not quite right’ with me. They were what led certain professionals to first suggest that I be taken out of mainstream educational settings and placed in special education.
One of my earliest childhood memories involves me, age four or five, sitting in the bathtub flapping my hands and my mother saying to me “Kira, why are you always flapping? Are you afraid something bad will happen if you don’t do that?
“No, I just like flapping and I like playing with things that are long” I replied.
“You like playing with things that are wrong?”
That was a pretty Freudian mishearing if you ask me. More than I hate that I owe the world an explanation for my fidgeting behaviors, I hate the way the world tells me such behaviors are wrong. I hate seeing my natural way of being described as ‘baffling’, ‘weird’ and ‘nonfunctional’. Trust me, I’m as baffled by the fact that other people don’t fidget as they are baffled by the fact that I do. For whatever reason my nervous system is wired in a way that makes me crave and need constant stimulation. It would be pretty weird for me not to be respond by seeking that stimulation.
I hate being told that fidgeting behaviors that I find soothing and pleasurable need to be suppressed or eliminated because others are bothered by it. I do not think that by fidgeting I am infringing on anyone’s rights or liberties. I will play anyone who is annoyed by it a violin smaller than a fidget spinner.
What I hate most of all is that certain people feel entitled to be rude, cruel and insulting to me over my fidgeting. They feel entitled to mock, taunt and threaten me over it, to forcibly grab me to prevent me from doing it. Under the guise of helping me they remind me that what I’m doing is not normal, that it will get me locked up in an institution, that people would like me more if I stopped. Suffice it to say, no one is helping me by saying or doing those things. To say that it’s taken a huge toll on my self esteem would be a huge understatement.
So many people with disabilities and differences suffer from low self esteem as a result of all the negative messages society gives them about themselves and their behavior. What we really need is a new spin on differences and disabilities in terms of the way they’re talked about, written about and hence perceived. We all know the best way to draw peoples’ attention to anything is through shiny objects so perhaps fidget spinners are a step in the right direction.