December 14, 2017


Friday, June 16, 2017

Focus on distraction?

By Liliana Palermo
For the Herald

Can a fidget (1) spinner really help you focus?

Fidget spinners are everywhere, nowadays. My younger cousins adore theirs. They spent the better part of (2) last Sunday night showing me tricks and the different kinds they have. Some even light up. Their streamlined motion, wide assortment of colours, and the clever tricks you can perform with them, have made them a noteworthy (3) trend, if but (4) a footnote (5) in fashion history, along with the slap bracelet, sea monkeys, and Rubik's Cube. They’re also making some folks rich. As of this month, fidget spinners are one of Amazon’s top 10 selling toys.

Florida inventor Catherine Hettinger created the first prototype back in 1993 to interact with her daughter, who is disabled. She patented her version in 1997. Unfortunately, no-one picked it up. She tried to sell it as a therapeutic device for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, or autism. After years of trying, she gave up. That might’ve been her tragic error.

Pretty soon, other models were on the market and last Christmas, the spinners really took off (6). Though first marketed to stressed-out adults, fidget spinners were soon adopted by the nation’s youth. Now, they’re all over elementary and middle schools, and giving teachers a headache. Ms. Hettinger isn’t down and out (7) about it. In fact, now age 62, she is currently crowdfunding her “classic” spinner. One wonders if she’s missed the mark (8) once again.

Earlier this month, the fad began to sour (9), perhaps due to its pervasiveness. Or maybe science is now starting to catch up with the hyperbole. Dr. Mark Rappaport, at the University of Central Florida, in an interview with the Daily Mail, said that, rather than help a child with ADHD focus, “using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction.”

Some schools are now banning (10) them. In Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, Florida, and England, schools have barred (10) students from even having them on school property (11). In some places, the ban is school system-wide. So do fidget spinners actually help people to focus or are they merely a distraction?

Currently, there are no peer-reviewed studies that support or refute marketer’s claims. Preliminary research suggests that children with ADHD who are allowed to fidget or squeeze a stress ball are better able to pay attention. Julie Schweitzer is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California-Davis. She says that a fidget spinner, in being so captivating (12), probably undermines any potential benefit gained by allowing a student to fidget with it.

I have a lot of teacher friends who groan about these toys on their Facebook pages. Their top complaint is that they distract students from completing their assignments. Some alternatives have been offered to give kids a chance to fidget in a way that’s less distracting to themselves and others.

Velcro on the desktop or allowing certain students to chew gum may work. What’s wrong with the fidgetting staples of my youth: pencils, erasers, and paperclips? Though advertisers are as smooth as ever (13), note that there’s no evidence that fidget spinners provide any therapeutic benefit, whether it be (14) stress-busting, anxiety-squashing, (15) or what-have-you (16).

Dr. David Anderson is a clinical psychologist and the senior director of the ADHD and Behavioral Disorders Center, at the Child Mind Institute, in New York. He told Money, “Mental illness is difficult to treat, and it’s not something for which there are simple solutions.” Most experts say a whole treatment plan should be fashioned to suit the particular needs of each child which may include: lifestyle changes, changes to the child’s environment, therapy, and even medication. Fidget spinners may not be included. Sad.

Adapted from a story by Philip Perry, Big Think



“fidget” (1)

See “Stop fidgetting” below.

“the better part of” (2)

You use this expression before a period of time. The meaning is “most of / nearly all that period,” (with emphasis on what you spent most of that period doing) as in We waited there for the better part of the afternoon until they finally turned up when we were about to leave.

“noteworthy” (3)

If something is noteworthy, it is interesting, significant, remarkable, deserving attention. I just read a noteworthy contribution to the debate which we should bring to the table / We should keep up the noteworthy progress we have made together to enhance communication.

“if but” (4)

Together with its equivalent “if only,” it means “even if it is only that.” He wrote several pieces, if but works that very few people read.

“a footnote” (5)

When you call an item “a footnote to” something else, the implication is that that item is related to the second element, additional to it, a minor part and of less importance. The team’s victory will prove to be a footnote in the annals of the history of that discipline.

“took off” (6)

Extending the metaphor of the image of a plane leaving the ground, if a product, an activity or a person’s career takes off, it suddenly starts to be successful or popular, as in If the social programme is going to really take off, we should involve other organisations as well.

“down and out” (7)

A person who’s down and out has no luck or money or opportunities and prospects. In the article, it describes the inventor as being too physically weakened by repeated defeats to continue trying.

“missed the mark” (8)

When a person misses the mark, they fail to get what was expected, usually by some slight mistake or by being slightly inaccurate and mistaken, as in The candidate’s speech missed the mark and did not get the public to support him more strongly. The opposite effect is “to hit the mark,” as in She knew her comment had hit the mark when they looked at her in concern.

“to sour” (9)

A word that is most commonly found as an adjective describing a kind of taste sensation, “sour” is often used as a verb to mean “to become unpleasant.” Many friendships have soured over shared business.

“banning” and “barred” (10)

These two verbs share the meaning of prohibiting, of not allowing something. Although the use of “ban” in the article is used transitively (that is, followed by the element which is prohibited), both can be used as the verb “prevent.” She was barred from taking part in another competition until she could produce an official permit.

“on school property” (11)

In other words: on the school premises, i.e. the land and the buildings belonging to the school. The words “property” or “premises” (always plural) are especially used with this meaning when the entity involved is a company or organisation. There is no smoking allowed anywhere on school premises / property / There aren’t any vending machines on the premises.

“In being so captivating” (12)

This gerundial phrase after the preposition “in” expresses the reason why – “why the benefit is undermined” – in this case.

“as smooth as ever” (13)

The writer describes the advertisers as “smooth,” that is to say, they are shown to be polite and confident in their attempt to persuade people, but in a way that is not sincere. It they are “as smooth as ever,” they are still as smooth / persuasive as they have been all the while. In other words, their attitude is the same as usual, it hasn’t changed. Since they had changed the cook, I expected a worse meal, but I must admit it was as good as ever.

“whether it be” (14)

We’ve discussed subjunctive forms in this section before. The subjunctive “be” is also used after “if” or “whether”, especially in formal British English as an alternative to the indicative “If / whether … are / is” If he be (not) guilty of the misdeed, he will have to appear before the authorities / Whether it be a matter of public interest or not, most of the citizens want to be informed on the progress in the case.

“stress-busting, anxiety-squashing” (15)

If there’s something you need to get rid of – even more so when it is a feeling or a sensation – you can bust (break or burst) it or squash (suppress or stop from continuing to exist) it.

“what-have-you” (16)

This informal expression at the end of an enumeration is used to mean “and other similar things,” in other words, “etcetera.” “What have you” replaces what remains and need not be mentioned. He sells toys, candy, stationery, and what have you.


Stop fidgeting!

Such a current utterance to deliver to a kid! The verb which gives this particular name to the spinner is closely connected to the use which it was meant to be put to. “To fidget” is to make continuous small movements, especially of the hands and feet, out of nervousness or impatience. The use of the verb itself has a negative connotation because it describes an action which usually annoys people. “Children” are usually the subject of such a verb, but you can find it with “audiences before a delayed performance” and any other person who looks restless.

Restlessness, a very human quality, is also reflected in the language through idiomatic phrases and expressions. Somebody who is overly restless is said to “have ants in their pants,” to “be like a cat on a hot tin roof,” or to “be on pins and needles.” There are several images in literature, which, even though they are not fixed idioms, they respond to the form of a simile in which two things (usually not alike) are compared to each other. “Fidgeting around, like a horse in an ant bed,” “pacing up and down like an animal in a cage,” “tossed all night like a man running from himself,” “fidgetting in his place, as if her chair was hot” are some instances of this.

The imperative “stay put” is an equivalent to “stop fidgetting.” To stay put is to remain in the same position or place, as in Stay put until I come back. “Keep / hold / sit still” are equivalent to “stay put.” Hold still until the doctor finishes checking you. If you “stand stock still,” you do not move at all. The kids stood stock still when they were promised candy if they behaved. Equivalent to this last expression is another simile “as still as death.”

Whether the fidget spinners help the fidgety type to concentrate or whether it has the opposite negative effect is probably too early to tell. However, this seems to have proven a language learning moment at least for those of you who can’t stand still in their linguistic curiosity. Although a second language takes the better part of a lifetime to master, it is always worth the effort and the time.


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