What can we learn from ‘fidget spinners’?

By Greg Whitby, 2 April 2020
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Some schoolyard fads come around every few years, even old classics like yoyos. Do you remember the ‘fidget spinner’ classroom craze a couple of years ago? These fun toys first designed for students who feel a little anxious at school can teach us all a lesson about autism awareness.

Autism Awareness Australia explains that autism spectrum disorder or ASD affects how people communicate and relate to others, as well as how they make sense of the world around them. Schools have a really important role in supporting students with ASD and their families.

‘Fidget spinners’ were considered by some as helpful for kids with ASD. When these toys really took off, many schools banned them! Perhaps this is a reminder of the need to skill up teachers to meet the needs of students with ASD too.

It’s common for students with ASD to be quite sensitive to noise, smells, taste, touch and sight too. One way that teachers work differently to help these students is by being aware that the classroom can be a source of sensory overload.

Teachers also tend to use visuals to make sure that students with ASD are picking up on messages they may have missed verbally. Communication challenges are common for these students including dominating conversations by sharing lots of knowledge about a quirky favourite topic. Students with higher levels of ASD are often non-verbal.

Students with ASD can also find social situations hard to handle. Some older kids also experience anxiety and find it really hard to make and maintain friendships. Changes in routine can also be tough. It’s really important that other students understand that the behaviour of their classmates is not just ‘acting out’.

I’m so proud to see other students leading on raising awareness of autism. With Aspect (Autism Spectrum Australia) classes in many schools, and students with ASD included in mainstream classes too, learning more is important. If you would like to learn more about autism, why not check out the Autism Awareness Australia website on World Autism Awareness Day (April 2): https://www.autismawareness.com.au/.

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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