Access by Various artists

4

Help a kid have a heavy blanket

by Russell Brown

In an autism family you have to get good at adapting to your child. You find ways of speaking, acting and presenting ideas that recognise your child's experience of the world. Sometimes what works might seem unusual.

Dr Temple Grandin's "squeeze machine", for example, was literally modelled on the squeeze chutes she saw cattle pass through on her aunt's farm. Reasoning that the cows seemed to become calm when broad pressure was applied to them, she, at the age of 18, designed and built a machine to replicate that experience in the hope of dealing with her own autism-related anxiety. It worked. (Studies have since shown it works for many neurotypical people too.)

Dr Grandin calls the principle "deep touch pressure" and contrasts the effect with light touching, which can increase anxiety. It's the same principle behind another, less dramatic, solution: weighted blankets.

Nicola Hayward's three year-old stepson was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. When she looked for ways to deal with his anxiety she came across weighted blankets – and then discovered that they can cost up to $500 to buy. As a sickness beneficiary (she has lupus and chronic kidney failure) she couldn't afford that.

"Therefore I borrowed a sewing machine and sourced the cheapest materials I could find and made my son his one. I hadn't sewn for around 20 years but I just gave it a go!" she told me.

It worked for her son.

"He loves his special blankets and it has made a world of difference for us."

And she'd like it to work for others too.

"I am making and donating these blankets to other families like ours, as I know that they are expensive and a lot of parents cannot afford them."

Nicola has set up a Givealittle page seeking donations to fund the one part of the blankets she can't source herself: the plastic pellets that provide the weight, which cost about $30/kg.

There has already been interest from other families in Nicola's blankets and you could help them by chipping in to buy a kilo, or half a kilo, of the pellets. Personally, I think Nicola should sooner or later earn a little from this work, but that's up to her. For now, she's donating her labour and finding the fabric where she can, reasoning that her own medical conditions mean she has "some spare time on my hands in order to do it."

I reckon it would be a good thing to help a good person do something good for families like hers.

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