Targeting Autism

I recently attended Targeting Autism, a national forum on serving library patrons with autism.  As an outreach associate at Berwyn Public Library, I deliver storytimes to 3-4 special needs classrooms every month, and I’ve done a bit of my own research on sensory storytimes.  ALA’s how-to guide went a long way in teaching me how to approach special needs classrooms as an outreach librarian.  I gradually starting learning more about serving children with special needs during an internship at Skokie Public Library, as my mentor is a facilitator of SNAILS.  But I had really only scratched the surface in my understanding.  This is what I learned.

What You Should Know About Autism

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a brain disorder that effects social and communication skills.
  • 1 in 44 people in American have autism.
  • People with autism are nervous about interacting with the typical world.
  • Autism is a spectrum, which means it manifests itself with varying degrees.
  • Some people with autism (but not all) may experience what is called sensory processing disorder, which means they may have trouble receiving and responding to information related to the senses.

During the Targeting Autism conference, we heard many speakers, from librarians to people sharing what it was like to have autism.  Our first speaker, Marty Murphy, gave us a lot of ideas about how to helps kids with autism in the library.  Symbols can help kids with autism communicate and remember the rules, especially with the help of assistive communication devices or quiet wrist bands.  Sensory rooms, or small reading nooks, were also suggested, which could be made out of something as simple as a card board box.

Marty also gave us tips on what to do in the case of an extreme meltdown:

  • Don’t touch, but ask what’s wrong.
  • See if an adult can explain.
  • Try to make eye contact.
  • Model inhaling and exhaling.
  • Ask if the child would like to call someone.
  • Listen.

A lot of the other presentations focused on developing partnerships with community organizations that were devoted to helping people with autism, such as Centers for Independent Living, The Answer, Inc, and the Early Intervention Clearinghouse.  Connecting with these services might be one of the first steps librarians can take to help families learn more about autism.  There was also an emphasis on providing opportunities for teens and adults with autism to gain volunteer experience at the library as shelvers, shelf readers, and even weeders.  These opportunities could even help teens and adults with autism transition from high school to the wider world.

Finally, we learned about this awesome YouTube series, started by two fifth grade boys with ASD and their teacher.  Two years later it’s still going strong, and I highly encourage everyone to check it out.

Overall, this was a very educational experience.  I definitely learned a lot (more than I’ve even written here), and it was wonderful to connect with other librarians dedicated to providing services to patrons with autism.  There is, of course, still more to learn.  I hope to go again next year!