A White Rock resident whose awareness of sensory sensitivities and the challenges of “fretting minds” has been heightened by a serious car accident and her experience as a flight attendant is hopeful a tool she created will help ease the anxieties of life’s journey for special-needs children and seniors with dementia.
Brita Doubroff also believes her fidget blanket will help caregivers take much-needed breaks.
Doubroff said the idea for her product – a colourful, lightweight and portable blanket incorporating 16 activities – came out of a group she joined a year ago to learn how to make products that could be sold on Amazon.
The blanket’s textures and activities are designed to stimulate minds, young and old alike, while keeping hands busy.
Initially developed for children with autism – Doubroff’s daughter, 31, has worked with children on the spectrum for more than 11 years – Doubroff said she quickly learned it could also be of use for a segment of older adults.
“When it finally launched on Amazon, all of a sudden it had traction in the dementia market,” Doubroff said. “Sales were coming a lot from the market, for people with dementia. Caregivers buying it for something to keep their hands busy.
“Everybody that sees it is 400 per cent excited.”
Made from industrial felt, the blanket includes a beaded necklace to play with, a belt to buckle and unbuckle, buttons and a zipper to open, and more.
Doubroff figures children as young as three could benefit, “depending where they are on the spectrum.”
Typically diagnosed before age six, autism is a brain-based developmental condition that affects different children in varying degrees, from mild to severe, impacting social interaction, communication skills, cognitive function and behaviour.
The majority of people living with dementia, meanwhile, are over age 65, however, people in their 40s and 50s can also develop it. In addition to memory loss, symptoms include difficulties with problem-solving and language, and changes in mood or behaviour.
Doubroff, who works for WestJet, said she has no close connection to anyone living with autism or dementia. But, she can relate to a need for calm.
Following a collision in Langley, she suffered effects, including sensitivity to noises, bright lights and colours. She had to rid her home of anything red, and would get agitated at certain sounds.
While many of her symptoms have subsided, “I’ve really identified with these precious little kids, especially those with sensory-overload issues.”
“It’s become quite a personal thing, and very emotional product for me.”
For caregivers, Doubroff said the fidget blanket is a tool they can use to free up some time for themselves, even if it’s just enough to sit down for a cup of tea.
“So much of the time, the caregivers are running on 90 per cent stress,” she said. “It might buy them 20 minutes, it might buy half an hour.”
Doubroff also hopes to introduce the blankets to local schools. She has five to donate, but is also encouraging others to purchase and donate them as well. She’s already given away about 100 so far, she noted, including to moms across Canada and the U.S. whose children are living with autism.
Another side effect of the project, said Doubroff, has come in her work as a flight attendant, through her own increased awareness around sensory challenges. She explained that it has enabled her to more easily recognize why some young passengers may be struggling, and better understand interactions and behaviours that others unfamiliar with autism may not.
“It’s just such a great way to be more gracious,” she said.
Doubroff’s blanket is available on Amazon for $57.99 (US$44.99).
For more information about the blankets, Doubroff may be reached at 604-805-3817, or by email to email@example.com