Recently, I was asked to create a "sensory skirt" for a young girl with autism. My friend Jen is a special education coordinator for a public school in West Virginia and one of her students was having trouble sitting still on the school bus and was starting to throw things. It was suggested that a "ribbon skirt" might help to keep her hands occupied on the ride so I was commissioned to make one. The reference photo I received was simply ribbons stitched to a ribbon waistband, but Jen and I decided that a variety of textures might be better, so I made this:
It's composed of various ribbon, ric-rac, lace, tulle, grommets, machine-embroidered alphabet ribbon, and elastic - stitched together to make a funky kind of tutu. It was intriguing enough to keep a fidgety child occupied for a while,
I thought, but not interesting enough.
I have always been interested autism. When I was teaching I had students who were considered "on the spectrum" and I did some research on the disorder so I could find ways to reach them. One thing I remembered reading was that some people with autism are calmed by weighted clothing. The tutu I made seemed too lightweight and too prone to become a tangled mess, so I looked around my studio for the most heavyweight material I could find. The velvet I got from my friend Jessie's grandmother was perfect. Next, I found a pair of cut-up jeans I'd been using for various projects and I cut out the pockets. Then I needed items of fidgety interest - zippers, ric rac, shiny brass buttons and some super-soft fringe. I assembled all the pieces on the velvet and double-stitched them down
In each pocket, I hid a plaything - a fuzzy pink heart in one and a smooth embroidered vinyl smiley face in the other. Each were attached securely to the inside of the pocket with some ric-rac. Since this girl's problem was throwing things, I figured I'd give her toys that would come back to her when she tossed them.
The waistband is a thick elastic that wraps around like an adjustable belt and secures with a metal double-ring buckle at the hip. The thick fringe trim plus another velvet piece on the back make it substantially weighted, yet soft, like a thick lap quilt.
I envisioned the girl's mother wrapping this apron around her daughter's waist before her bus ride and then the young girl sitting in her seat, comforted by the weight of fabric on her lap, moving the zippers back and forth, up and down, tracing the zig-zag pattern of the ric-rac, seeing her reflection in the shiny brass buttons, running her fingers through the super-soft fringe, and pulling out the fluffy heart and smooth smiley face to play with on the ride to school. That's my hope at least.
I got an email from Jen today. She said the girl like the tutu, but REALLY liked the apron. That makes me happy. I hope it helps.
Are you interested in a custom fidget apron for someone with sensory issues or autism? Send me an email and I'd be happy to discuss a design to fit your needs.