Now that I’ve managed to recuperate from post-exam exhaustion, it’s time for me to return to the blogosphere. I have a lot to talk about, and today I want to start with something topical.
I have seen the fidget spinner craze, and there’s been a lot of discussion on the toy in question and I want to approach a byproduct of that craze. Shortly after the fad took off, I saw the occasional odd post that voiced outrage at how neurotypicals were taking a toy meant for the disabled and making it impossible for the disabled to use due to the bans put into place after fidget spinners became popular and overused in the classroom.
These posts didn’t sit well with me. While the people who shared them probably just did so reflexively (which I admittedly find troubling, but somewhat understandable), it was because something unexpected happened.
An Unexpected (Non)reaction
A few days ago, I went to a Meetup with adults on the autism spectrum. What was curious about this encounter was the complete absence of fidget spinners. I had thought that at least one person would have had it, but they were completely absent from the table. In fact, I was the only one who brought the lesser-known fidget cube.
When I showed off the fidget cube, it was received with a “hey, that’s kind of cool” response. It was measured enthusiasm, far from the eager anticipation I expected.
There’s a lot I have to say about the fidget cube, but that’s going to be reserved for an upcoming post. Either way, people weren’t clamoring for their own fidget spinners nor were they furious at the fact that people outside the disabled community were using them.
I’ve read a couple of articles scattered about regarding the toys, claiming that the neurotypical enjoyment of the toys is an expression of power and dominance over the disabled. To them, the non-disabled are engaging in activities that previously were sought to be corrected in the disabled and hence these activities are now acceptable.
I will not deny the abysmal treatment of the neurodiverse when people had no idea what things like autism even were. I won’t pretend that there isn’t work to be done in regards to making life better for people on the spectrum. However, I find this interpretation reductive. The gradual acceptance of stimming has been an ongoing process and stim toys have been around longer than the spinner. I don’t think this is an exercise of power on the part of the non-disabled.
Ableism is a very real thing, but I find that interpreting this fad as an ableist act to be misguided. As I wrote for Splice Today, it’s a cultural barometer. It happened to be in the right place at the right time as a toy marketed as helping anxiety in a year where people have good reason to be extremely anxious.
Those who benefit from stimming have had ways of dealing with it before the spinner fad and they will have them still when the fad ends. There are online stores that sell plenty of stim toys, including chewable necklaces and more discrete spinner rings. Maybe this is why no one I knew personally seemed particularly concerned.
How would people go about stopping neurotypicals from buying these toys anyway? They’re everywhere and they’re inexpensive, a fuming Tumblr post isn’t going to stop them from doing this. This is wrapped in the language of social justice, but it appears to me to be little more than old-fashioned gatekeeping that dictates that these people must be kept out.
What I actually find most troubling of all is something that dawned on me after my return home: No one asked me what I thought. No one wanted my opinion, not even in a curious way. I am very public with my status of being on the spectrum and I find the most unfortunate implication of all is that no one really cared what I thought and instead proceeded to share the latest outrage post du jour.
Not that I expect everyone to come to me when they want a neurodiverse perspective, since after all neurodiversity isn’t a hivemind. But the fact that literally no one cared to ask someone who is open about life on the spectrum is something that I find needs addressing.
One of the most common frustrations I have is that people on the spectrum are often talked for and over by their parents, caregivers, teachers, or others in a similar capacity. Instead of directly engaging with people on the spectrum, it’s sent through that other person’s filters. This is not to say that these people can’t advocate for those they care about, but that it’s also important for us to hear directly from those concerned. One cannot substitute the direct experiences of those who are living the life firsthand.
The fidget spinner debacle opens up a whole can of worms for me, though. I would love to have a discussion about how dubious solutions, pseudoscience, and woo are marketed and sold to parents of autistic children who interpret autism as something to be feared.
I would also love to point out how this could be a springboard for discussing the role of sensory stimulation, even among neurotypicals. We could use this as an opportunity to talk about the importance of tactile feedback, how things like texture, shape, and other tactile sensations affect us. Product designers especially could take note, just how something physically feels has an impact on how it’s used.
But we are clearly not ready to have these conversations yet. How can we even talk about that if we are stuck trying to figure out if neurotypical people are even allowed to buy fidget spinners? As for me, I have a fidget cube and I absolutely have no trouble sharing it with my neurotypical friends.