Calming blankets for special children

Photo: Arc Northwest Mississippi Executive Director Rebecca Treadway and Dorothy Bundy with one of the weighted blankets that are made. (Bob Bakken/DeSoto County News)

Many children, especially those with autism, are placed more at ease by being placed underneath or covered by a weighted blanket. Many times doctors or occupational therapists prescribe the blankets’ usage for those in the autism spectrum.  

In DeSoto County and North Mississippi, over the past eight years, a group of ladies have gotten together and helped make these weighted blankets for those who may need them.

A woman named Pannay Guigley, who lived in Hernando at the time, started the Weighted Blanket Project during the summer of 2013. Guigley got a supply of poly pellets and made the first weighted blanket, and then got a group of women together to make more blankets from the remaining pellets. That’s how the Weighted Blanket Project got started. 

A year later, the group making weighted blankets was brought under the wing of the Arc Northwest Mississippi to be a project of the nonprofit awareness and support organization, led by Executive Director Rebecca Treadway.  

“As soon as we chartered and got ourselves with our feet under us, we pulled it under our umbrella,” Treadway said. “You get more stuff when you’re under a 501(c)3 (non-profit status), so we pulled her in in October 2014. That’s when things really started rolling with more donations.” 

The Weighted Blanket Project also got a boost when Erin Hendricks and Susan Kizer with DeSoto County Schools (DCS) learned of it and were able to get the blankets and lap pads into district Special Needs classrooms. 

A grant from the Arc Northwest Mississippi, an estate donation of fabric and sewing supplies, money donations from individuals, plus a partnership with United Solutions of Sardis and a significant 401K donation have helped carry the project through the past number of years, although Dorothy Bundy of Byhalia added that there have been times the supplies were lean. 

Bundy credits God for carrying the project through over the years.  

“He’s been very generous and guiding and He’s been very controlling,” Bundy said. “There’s been times I’ve wanted to jump ship, but He kept sending me requests and sending me supplies.”

Bundy has taken the lead in making the blankets since Guigley left the area. In all, at least 2,086 blankets and 3,828 weighted lap pads have been made since the project started. Of that number, 739 blankets and 1,479 lap pads were donated to DCS Special Needs classrooms. 

However, Bundy said recently it is time for her to end the project.  

“We have very few blankets left and when we fill those blankets we are closing up shop,” Bundy said. “It’s time and God hasn’t sent me someone to continue the project. They would have to rebuild their own project, because I am closing up shop.”

Treadway explains how important the weighted blankets are to youngsters with autism.  

“The weight helps calm the person,” Treadway said. “Kids with autism are very fidgety, they have trouble self-regulating and keeping their bodies calm.  The weighted blanket will help calm them down. These really help people with restless leg syndrome.” 

Requests for the blankets are made and a form is filled out. The form will include what favorite colors, characters or designs a child may have. In most cases, children with autism will have their requests filled. Treadway said permission from a doctor or occupational therapist may also be required.  

“The kids with Down Syndrome, we have them check with their doctors because sometimes kids of Down Syndrome have heart conditions and a weighted blanket is not good for it,” Treadway explained. “So, we want to make sure from a medical standpoint that what we are doing is OK.  We do more than autism but it’s only if an occupational therapist or doctor tells us that we can do it.”

Bundy said she has enjoyed making the blankets. 

“I’ve turned my house into a factory but the group would meet at the (Olive Branch) Senior Center (before COVID-19) and take poly pellets and, in addition to creating the lap pad shell, the ladies would fill them,” Bundy said. “I would say that I have loaded 99 percent of the blankets. I have two ladies who make the blanket shell without hesitation.” 

Most of the women who made the blankets and lap pads come from Southaven and Olive Branch. 

“It’s not an easy thing to make the blankets,” Treadway added. “They are really tricky to make. She had a small team that has sewing bees, but all they are doing is making the shell of the blanket and Dorothy is making the rest of the blanket at home. They help get it started.” 

Weighted blankets can be purchased commercially today but Treadway warns the blankets should be the right weight. Ten percent of body weight up to roughly 20 pounds is what she recommends.  

“I think the most amazing thing is that inside these blankets are poly pellets and they are very expensive to buy,” Treadway said. “Dorothy, in her research, found a company that makes trash cans. Before the plastic trash cans get dumped into a mold, the plastic is a poly pellet. They had thousands of pounds of poly pellets that they were just throwing away.” 

Bundy is grateful to have provided her skill and passion to the Weighted Blanket Project, but it is time to put the sewing machine away, grateful for what she could give to those who needed it. 

“I’ve been glad to be God’s tool, He deserves all of the recognition,” Bundy said.  

Arc Northwest Mississippi Executive Director Rebecca Treadway (left) and Dorothy Bundy with a weighted blanket. (Bob Bakken/DeSoto County News)

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