Special needs students find expression through quilting

Quilts - Patrick McDonough/Staff photo
— image credit: Patrick McDonough/Staff photo

At first glance, the quilts displayed in the hallways of Cougar Valley Elementary School in Silverdale might not seem extraordinary, but they are for the special needs students who created them.

The students, who are faced with challenges such as autism, spina bifida and sometimes unidentified conditions, recently created 20 quilts as a way to express themselves artistically and connect with the world.

Several instructors that helped students create the collection of quilts said the project assisted the students in learning, but also expressed a unique world that not many see.

The quilts are sewn with 8-by-8 inch pieces of cloth; each square of a quilt is a window into a special world; some squares hold Disney characters while others show Hot Wheels patterns, hearts and even works of art from the children.

Ellen Norris, a speech language pathologist at the school, said the quilts were made of materials chosen by the students, and tended towards the tactile.

“The material is very sensory,” she said. “Some of the kids are non-verbal, but we could tell what they liked by how they reacted to the material.”

Touch could be an important way for the students to express themselves Norris said and added that beyond choices of color and touch, the cloth used often held deeper meaning for the students.

Norris said one student’s parent had returned from deployment in the Middle East and the child had connected the sight of the desert camouflage with the long-awaited return of a parent.

“The child’s father gave us a shirt and we used the material and incorporated it into the quilt,” she said.

Once the materials were chosen, teachers helped the students with the process of creating the quilts. The teachers marked the cloth and students assisted in cutting the material and working the sewing machines. Over a period of weeks, the quilts began to take shape. Each child had a role in every element of the creation of their quilts.

“It wasn’t just us making the quilts for them,” she said. “Each child made their own quilts.”

Along with materials donated by parents, Norris Tim Rogers, a special education teacher at the school, contributed a classroom PTA grant of $200 and the Kitsap County School Retirees Association donated another $150.

“Sometimes people don’t see the kids, they see the disability,” Rogers said. “If you spend 20 minutes with one of these kids, you will see they have a lot of personality.”


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