Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Hillary, Alyssa. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Hillary, A. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Let's talk about fidget spinners and patterns.

Fidget spinners are a fad. Thinkpieces about fidget spinners, therefore, are also a fad. That's how it works, right? On one side, there's people who are arguing that these are toys (true), that they are a fad (true), that they can distract some people (true), that there is not research showing improved focus from their use (true), and that they are not an accessibility issue (false). On another side, there's people arguing that they are a focus tool for some autistic people and/or people with AD(H)D (true), that the lack of evidence is due to a lack of research and not a statement of inefficacy to use against individuals who find them useful (true), that this can be an accessibility issue (true), and that their fad nature among neurotypical students is bad (false) because it is getting the toys banned (mixed truth value). I've also seen more nuanced views, generally from disabled people, but those seem to be the two main camps.

I want to point out a pattern in how accessibility discussions go, especially in educational contexts.
  1. A disabled person needs something for access reasons.
  2. Abled people call the thing distracting, because our existence in public is apparently distracting.
  3. The thing is either banned entirely or permitted only for people with the paperwork to prove they need it for disability reasons.
  4. Disabled people who need the thing either don't have access to the thing or must out themselves as disabled in order to gain access. If outing oneself is required, the thing is heavily stigmatized.
  5. Disabled people who have an actual access conflict with the thing are erased entirely, which makes conversations about possible solutions to the access conflict impossible. One set of needs or the other will "win." Any disabled people who need to avoid the thing are lumped in with the people who want to ban the thing for ableist reasons and therefore vilified. Which set of needs "wins" here varies, but it usually has some relationship to hierarchy of disability stuff and having one set "win" while the other "loses" is a bad solution regardless.
That's not just a fidget spinner thing, but it does apply here. With fidget spinners, autistic people and folks with ADHD (I'd love to know of a reasonably recognized way of talking about this neurotype without the second D/in a neurodiversity paradigm way, btw) end up in both the "need the thing" and the "need to avoid the thing" groups. I assume some other neurotypes are similarly split as well - I just don't have the familiarity to assert so. With visual alerts on fire alarms, D/deaf people need the thing. Since the visual is a strobe, a lot of neurodivergent people, especially people with photosensitive epilepsy, need to avoid the thing. With service animals, the folks who use them need the thing. People with allergies need to avoid the thing, and not everyone with an allergy can safely share a space with a service animal, even if they are treating their allergies. Conflicting access needs exist, and this pattern prevents us from finding ways to deal with the conflicts. Instead, one access need gets lumped in with abled people who don't like the thing because it's associated with disability and therefore presumed not to be a real need.

Now for fidgets: some people need something to do with their hands while listening if they're going to retain anything. I am in this group, by the way. In high school, I knit, I sewed, and I made chainmail - armor, not spam. I've also tried drawing, which takes care of the "need to do something in order to sit" issue but takes enough attention that I'm no longer following the conversation, so that doesn't work for me in class. Writing hurts quickly enough that while taking notes has sometimes been possible at university, there was no way it was going to be the answer for the duration of a school day in middle or high school. (I, specifically, should not have a laptop in class. If I'm going to need notes it's the least bad option, but least bad does not mean good.) So I did assorted arts and crafts that were fairly repetitive and totally unrelated to class. The biology teacher who told us on day one that he had ADHD was both the most understanding teacher about my need to fidget somehow and the teacher most at risk of being distracted by my making armor in class.

That last paragraph is the "no, really, I need to fidget." It's also the "there are several fidget options that work for me." Most, but not all, of the standard fidget toys will meet my needs, as I discovered because they are also a fad and I got some awesome fidget toys. This is important, when access conflicts come into play - if there are several options that meet the access need of the first disabled person, it's easier to find one option that everyone is OK with. When there are several options that work, requesting "not option A in situation W" is not an access issue, because options B through H are still fine. If we're going to come up with reasons that each of B through H are also not fine, individually, then we're going to have a problem.

The fidget toy fad is making options D through H cheaper and cooler. When fidgets are marketed as assistive technology, they are super expensive. Considering that disabled people tend not to have a lot of money, that's an access issue, so the fad is making a set of possible solutions more accessible. That's cool. It's also leading to a sufficient presence for teachers to make explicit policies about the toys (as opposed to banning them person by person), and for a flat ban to seem like a good idea to teachers who are seeing kids appear distracted by them. (My bet is that the neurotypical students who appear distracted actually are. I expect the autistic and ADHD students who appear distracted are a mix of actually distracted because they are just as distractable as any other student and only appearing to be distracted because of ableist ideas about what paying attention looks like. Remember, I'd fail special needs kindergarten as a twenty-four year old PhD student.) The explicit banning for everyone is ... not so good. Mostly because the other options are usually also disallowed or heavily stigmatized, and then we may well be left with no good options.

And let's not pretend handing everyone a fidget spinner, or any other fidget, is going to magically "solve ADHD" or whatever. I think some of the camp that's firmly against the toys is reaching that position for similar reasons to haters of weighted vests - we hand it over and the person is still autistic, or still ADHD. A tool that a person uses to cope in a less than accessible environment doesn't make them stop being disabled by the environment. Plus a fidget spinner isn't going to help everyone. Some people really will be distracted if they have something to play with, and some of those people really will be neurodivergent. Conflicting access needs, again, are a thing. If one person needs a fidget, and another needs not to be next to someone with an obvious fidget, those two people probably shouldn't sit next to each other. Giving people fidgets that they can use while the toy remains in their pocket is also a possibility in some cases. We can have conversations about access conflicts, if we admit that both sets of needs exist. (We also need to admit that some subset of the people making arguments about distraction are doing the bad faith argument where everything disabled people need is a distraction because, essentially, our presence in public is a distraction.)

[Let's also insert a plug for my Patreon. I write. I have a Patreon.]


  1. As a sped teacher, this is so on point. Lots of teachers hate the fidget spinners, but are ok with alternatives. Others hate the fidget spinners...and any alternative fidget given. They lead to very different conversations with each teacher.
    Also, as an attention deficit hyperactive disorder, inattentive-focused person (Also known as ADD), I generally refer to myself as neurodivergent and clarify my brain differences as necessary. Not sure if there is a widely recognized term within the neurodiversity paradigm for us, but that's what I use :)

    1. Definitely different conversations depending, yeah.

      I've heard attention difference hyperactive divergence, which maintains the acronym (not sure if that's good or bad and probably not my place to say anyways) but it feels a bit like a euphemism to me?

      I've also heard kinetic cognitive style, which I dunno if that fits inattentive-focused but my hyperactive type and both-at-once friends seem to like that one.


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