Autistic children often struggle with hypersensitivity to touch, so two students at Ruth Hill Elementary School figured out another way to help comfort their autistic schoolmates.
Fifth-graders Kaitlyn Adamson and Brooklyn Dudley began working on weighted lap pads for the six students in Ruth Hill’s autism class last fall through the school’s Launch Pad Library. The Launch Pad Library is the brainchild of media specialist Anne Graner, who revamped the traditional media center at RHES to better suit the needs of students.
Graner grouped books by topic and introduced six hands-on learning portals, recruited community partners and – with the help of those partners – created self-contained exploration centers that include resources and activities related to each portal.
“The Ruth Hill Launch Pad Library is on a mission to launch students for life success,” Graner said.
Ruth Hill serves more than 400 students, 85 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch, and Graner said the school can help reduce the opportunity gap for many of its students by creating an interactive learning environment that encourages student exploration, creativity and contribution to the community.
That’s where Adamson and Dudley come in. When Graner approached autism teacher Jennifer Reed about making bean bags for her students to throw and catch, Reed suggested weighted lap pads might be more useful, and the two girls bought in.
“The decision came after hearing that lap pads would help autism students remain calm and focused, thereby equipping them to be more successful,” Graner said.
The project was a good fit for the Launch Pad Library’s Discover a Solution portal, where students in grades 3-5 already were learning how to use a sewing machine.
“Without realizing it, the students were engaged in mathematics – measurement, angles and real problem-solving,” Graner said.
After filling out a required Launch Pad Library application and getting approval for the project, Adamson and Dudley went to work – but it wasn’t easy.
A prototype created by the students fell to pieces shortly after being donated to the school’s Autism Center, revealing some flaws in the design and materials.
“It quickly became apparent that better fabric and sewing was needed,” Graner said.
Instead of giving up, Adamson and Dudley were determined to create a better product – but they needed help to do it.
A “Stitching Seams for Success” grant from the Coweta Community Foundation helped purchase weighted polyfill and quality fabric featuring the favorite colors and characters of each student in the Autism Center. That gave the fifth-grade duo the opportunity to refine their lap pad design for durability, as well as to personalize each.
Graner said the lesson in product development was valuable, and one that fits seamlessly into the Launch Pad Library’s purpose of helping students build the skills and confidence to ensure their academic and future career success.
Adamson and Dudley, who are headed to middle school next year, finished several of the lap pads and trained rising fifth-graders to finish the rest next year. They said they gained some valuable personal insight during the project.
“Autistic kids are just normal, regular people,” Adamson said.
“They just communicate differently,” Dudley said.
Both students say they enjoyed the project.
“It made us feel good because we got to help other people,” Adamson said.
“But you also got to help yourself by learning something new,” Dudley said.
How to make a weighted lap pad
By Kaitlyn Adamson and Brooklyn Dudley
Fabric – purchase a yard of different fabric for both the front and back
Poly-Pellets (weighted stuffing beads)
Reclosable small plastic bags – 3" x 4"
Butcher paper/ bulletin board paper/ poster board to make pattern
Funnel to pour the beads into the bag.
Duct tape to wrap around and seal the plastic bags
Sewing machine – use a triple stitch or something similar
1. Make a pattern that measures 30" x 16".
2. On the pattern, draw lines to create a grid of 24- 6" x 4" rectangles (3 lines across, 5 lines down).
3. Put the pattern on the yard of fabric and with chalk, mark off an inch border around the pattern. This is for seam allowance. Cut out the fabric (32" x 18").
4. Then draw the grid markings extending out to the seam allowance.
5. Do the same for the other side of fabric.
6. With right sides together, sew a 1-inch seam around the two long sides and one of the short sides.
7. Turn the fabric right side out.
8. Sew along the 5 long lines to create long pockets.
9. Prepare the weighted beads bags by filling the bags with a 1/4th cup of beads and wrapping the bags with duct tape.
10. Slide one bag into each of the long pockets to create the first row at the bottom of the pad.
11. Sew horizontally along the grid above this bottom row.
12. Slide the next row of bags and then sew above the row.
13. Do this for each of the rows. You'll need to hold the weighted part of the lap pad so it doesn't pull while sewing.
14. When completed, fold the top seam inward and sew along the top.