For anyone living with anxiety or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), finding an outlet for pent up energy can be pretty challenging. Think of the times you’ve cracked your knuckles, kept shaking your foot or clicked a pen over and over when you were anxious, and how much attention it drew. Over the last few years, an unlikely field has come to the rescue: fashion.
Specially designed rings, bracelets, pendants and other innocuous items of jewellery are being used as tools to help the wearer find something to fidget with, in times of stress. To the untrained eye, the jewellery is merely pretty; the rubberised textures, movable parts and spinning components seem unremarkable. But to those with these disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum, the discreet styles mean a distraction is always on hand (often literally) in times of worry.
The idea came from Alexandra Connell, 31, a resident of Denver, USA, who grapples with anxiety and ADHD. In July 2017, she founded the jewellery brand PATTI + RICKY, aiming to create functional and stylish accessories for men, women and children with disabilities. On offer were rings with beads that could be twiddled; pendants that could be fiddled with, twirled or even chewed on; and bracelets with moving parts, like zippers, that could be jiggled back and forth. The catchall term for her designs: fidget jewellery.
Connell wears the products herself. In a New York Times article in March 2019, she mentioned that it had helped manage her ADHD and anxiety, and that those who’d compliment her accessories were always surprised to hear that they were designed to serve a purpose.
In India, where fidget spinners were a popular trend in 2017, the specialised jewellery is quietly gaining popularity.
“Any sort of fidget device will help in ADHD in the capacity of aiding the actual treatment,” says Alpes Panchal, a clinical psychiatrist from Mumbai. “The jewellery will not, by itself, rectify chemical imbalances in an ADHD person,” he warns. But it will provide the momentary distraction during stressful moments, when anxiety builds up.
“I recommend fidget spinners to ADHD children,” says Panchal. “Adults have better results with cognitive behavioural therapy than these devices.
Platforms like Etsy and Amazon retail fidget jewellery locally. Most of their designs lack the finish or the aesthetic appeal of the ones available internationally. But for locals looking for a way to de-stress, they’re a start. “The fidget spinner trend might be out of the spotlight, but people still need a way to help settle their minds,” says Narendra Kumar, creative director at Amazon Fashion.
The site Help Them Shine imports fidget jewellery from the US. “I started this portal in 2013 when my autistic son, who is now 18, didn’t have products to help with his disability,” says Ambuj Kumar, owner and CEO of the Delhi-based company. Their top sellers are necklaces with food-grade silicone pendants that can be chewed on. “The harder ones are for adults and softer ones are for kids.” The pendants’ colours indicate their textures. The softest are magenta or red; blue, lavender and forest green are best suited for adults.