Wilton’s Gloria Bass has been helping people with special needs here at home (and elsewhere) for a very long time. Not only is her work motivated out of family love, but she helped build the Wilton Family Y Special Needs program and has advocated on the state and federal levels to help protect children who learn differently in school.

Now she has started a business called Sensory Snuggle Blankets, hand-making therapeutic weighted blankets. They help children and adults with autism, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, hyperactivity and other challenges by gently providing pressure to helping calm and soothe. It’s something she learned about years ago.

“I just have this love for the special needs community–it’s very dear to me. It started when I started taking care of my husband’s grandchildren. We took custody of them when they were not quite 4 years old, and both of them had special needs,” says Bass about twins Artie and Dean.

For Bass and her husband, figuring out what worked and helped the boys was a lot of trial and error. One thing she noticed was that when the boys wore weighted vests in school at Wilton Preschool Services, they seemed to be able to focus better. “They were fairly grounded, it was helping to keep that sensory piece. I wanted to buy blankets but they were so expensive. So I started toying with it at home.”

Bass figured out how to make weighted blankets at home, making new ones for Artie and Dean each time they outgrew them, or as gifts for other people. Starting the business was a natural extension, but in addition to selling the blankets, Bass is also hoping to do some fundraising to cover the costs for blankets for families that cannot afford them.

“Families are desperate for the blankets and so many just can’t afford the costs. I’ve donated some throughout the years, but it is costly for me to make as well,” she says.

Bass explains that weighted clothing and blankets help settle a child with sensory issues by providing deep pressure on the body. “It helps to release serotonin in the body, which actually helps get melatonin going. That helps them be more comfortable, get rest and sleep.”

She says that the suggested blanket weight for a child is based on the weight of the person using it. “It’s 10-percent of the body weight and then I usually put in an extra pound.” Bass sources materials after consulting with the family, selecting particular colors or even themes and cartoon characters a child would like, or different fabrics (satin, cotton, fleece, etc.) based on the preferences of the child. Everything is custom-made, and can be created in different sizes, from lap-pads to larger blankets.

The weights are actually weighted beads, and Bass hand-fills and stitches each square so that the weight is evenly distributed. It also helps make the blankets easy to care for–parents can wash and dry them at home.

It can take longer than one day for her to make a blanket. “It is tedious and pretty involved,” she acknowledges. Prices vary depending on the weight and size of a blanket, beginning at $67 and ranging up to $200.

One thing that Bass emphasizes is that parents should consult with the child’s occupational therapist first. As well, it’s important to note that the blankets are not used to restrain anyone. “The weight is just enough to help relax and comfort. It’s amazing the calming affect it has.”

Bass recounts how her grandson would use a smaller weighted lap pad when they would drive in a car, watch TV or go out to a restaurant.  She can relate to what she hears from families who have found some nighttime relief having the blankets enable their children to sleep easier.

“Artie has a lot of global developmental delays, and there was constant motion all night long. He wasn’t able to settle. It’s got to be exhausting for him in constant motion, and I didn’t get to rest either. I was exhausted. But the blanket weight helped him settle and rest,” she recalls. “Parents have to rest and get sleep, or they’re too exhausted the next day to tend to the needs of the family. So many children with autism may be non-verbal, have behavior issues, parents can be overwhelmed. It’s a salvation.”

She says that’s what keeps her motivated, especially knowing so well the path others are walking.

“I was brought up to give back to the community, it’s just so important. There are just so many families who need. I raised two typical children, and then to suddenly have two young children with special needs, I was just overwhelmed, trying to figure things out. Dean and Artie are 22 now, but there wasn’t the awareness back then that there is today. It is my passion.”

Anyone interested in purchasing a blanket can contact Bass directly, either via Sensible Snuggle’s Facebook page or by email. Her website is almost ready to launch as well.