Fidget spinner twirling off Manitoba shelves as the newest hit toy

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Fidget spinners flying off shelves in Windsor-Essex

Connor Peterson spins his new fidget spinner on sunny afternoon in a Winnipeg playground.

The 12-year-old has misophonia, which is a hatred of certain noises and the condition has led to having anxiety and OCD. 

He got a spinner less than a week ago and says it really helps manage his symptoms.

"It's like my go to thing, I just keep on spinning it. Every time I spin it, it makes me feel a whole lot better, I don't know why," Connor said.

Connor said he spent the last two years dealing with his symptoms by tapping his fingers to distract his sense of hearing or would ask to be excused from the class until the symptoms subsided. He said now he can stay in his class.

"I just put it under the desk and spin it for a little bit, I feel like every time I spin it I feel a little bit better," he said.

Connor's mom Wanda said his symptoms can be brought on by something as simple as other students chewing, breathing heavily or even sniffling. She said the family hasn't had many meals together for almost six years and that his new toy is having a quick impact on her son.

"It calms him down. It gives him something else to focus on," she said.

"His other senses are engaged then, and the more his senses are engaged — the other ones — it dulls the sound one."

Connor said his teachers have told him he can use it as long as it doesn't get too distracting at the school.

That's where things could spin out of control. The new toy is one of the hit toys of 2017, and more and more are popping up in schools around the country.

Kari England, the owner of Toad Hall Toys in Winnipeg's Exchange District said the store can't keep the toys on the shelf — and not because they're spinning off.

"Our first batch, I think it was two weeks ago at the most, and I posted on our social media, 'They're here,'" she said. "And then I had to turn around a few hours later and say, 'They're gone, there will be more coming.' It's got everybody a little off guard."

England said they were surprised by how the toy has sold. Their first order of 48 sold out in two hours. A second batch of 144 arrived on Friday and were gone by Monday. A third order of 48 arrived Tuesday and the store had less than 12 by lunchtime.

England said it's a simple toy that has a lovely feel to it.

"Even watching people in my own household, it's almost a zen thing for them," she said. "It's being used while they're doing something else. It almost helps still the mind for some people."

But the toys have caused trouble in some classrooms for being too distracting. Teachers in some U.S. cities have banned the spinners from their classes, while an instructor in New Brunswick seized seven in one day when their owners broke the school's rules for how to use them.

Not enough evidence to support spinners: psychologist

Winnipeg psychologist and certified behavior analyst Kirsten Wirth says there's not enough evidence to say for sure that the toys actually help kids focus.

"There might be one or two studies, but that's not enough to be what we would consider to be an evidence-based strategy," Wirth said.

"Sometimes people report that something helps them or makes them feel better about something, but that's why there's a difference between what we call anecdotal evidence and what the research actually shows," Wirth said. "Because there might be a bit of a placebo effect happening where we feel like something is helping, but it may or may not actually be helping."

To find out for sure if the toys help any one child in particular, Wirth recommended parents and teachers identify a few specific behaviours they want to change and keep track of them over a few weeks, with and without the spinners.

She added parents sometimes assume their child's behaviour is caused by anxiety or nervousness, even if that's not the case.

"Whether it is or not, we can still use different strategies to impact it in ways that have been shown by the research to be really effective," she said.

Connor and his mom aren't worried. Even if the popular toy does become problematic for teachers, Wanda said the school has been very accommodating for her son so far.

"His school especially is very understanding with things like this," she said.

"They've made all sorts of conditions for him, I think this is another one. I think if it got to the point where people were spinning them and throwing them around, they probably would ban it but they'd do it on a case-by-case basis. They're pretty good about stuff like that."