By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
WASHINGTON — Weighted blankets can bring comfort to individuals with autism, helping them to focus in school or sleep better at night. However, the retail cost of these blankets — between $100 and $450 each — can put these blankets out of reach for some families.
To help spread the comforting warmth of weighted blankets to families who cannot afford them, a group of about 30 volunteers gathered at St. James Parish over two days in April, finishing 22 weighted blankets and getting a start on several more.
The parish began hosting an annual blanket-making party about three years ago, after Social Action Committee member Pat Dessner participated in a blanket-making party in West Branch. She presented the idea to the committee, which considered it a worthy project. “Many people realize the challenges for children with sensory needs,” Dessner said.
The group works with the Ottumwa-based non-profit, Sharing the Weight, to distribute the blankets to individuals with autism. The organization was founded by Marci Prose, a mother of a son with autism. Dessner said Prose was inspired to start the nonprofit after a weighted blanket helped her son sleep through the night for the first time. Individuals can request a blanket and pay only shipping charges.
Sensory blankets are considered a form of Deep Touch Pressure therapy (DTP). This is the term for the feeling of gentle, distributed weight on the body. An estimated 95 percent of parents of children with autism have seen an improvement in their child’s quality of life after using a sensory blanket, according to Sharing the Weight.
The blankets, which can be made with any washable material, cost an average of $20 to make and take about five hours to complete, Dessner said. Volunteers sew pockets into the blanket, which are filled with poly pellets and triple-stitched to prevent the pellets from escaping. Blankets should be approximately 10 percent of the child’s body weight to be most effective. Blankets are made to weigh 5, 7 or 10 pounds.
St. James invited parishioners and community members to take part in the project through sewing or making a donation. “We posted flyers, wrote an article for the bulletin and placed a small ad in our local newspaper,” Dessner said. “We have encouraged volunteers from other churches to join us. There have been several from other churches.”
Sharing the Weight has distributed more than 2,000 blankets made by volunteers to families in need in all 50 states and in five foreign countries. Approximately 4,000 people are on the waiting list to receive blankets.
Dessner said she is thankful for the donors and sewers in Washington who have helped fill that need. “This is such a rewarding project.”
For more information, go to www.sharingtheweight.org.