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Public Library Excels at Serving Children with Autism

October 16, 2014

October 16, 2014

By Michele Farrell
Senior Library Program Officer

On my Colorado site visit, I never expected to hear a TED Talk, but that’s what it sounded like when Katherine Weadley spoke about a program she and others developed at the Longmont Public Library in Longmont, CO. Katherine wears two hats: mother of two children who fall on the autism spectrum and Longmont Public Librarian who helps out with Children and Teen Services, among many other duties. Katherine is passionate about making institutions more responsive to children.

A "quiet corner” in the Longmont Library used by children on the Autism Spectrum

 

With a $10,000 in LSTA Grants to States funds, the library expand library services to Longmont’s children and teens on the autism spectrum. They created a sensory story time and a social story time in English and Spanish. Noise-cancelling headphones, iPads with specialized apps, and puzzles were purchased. A “quiet corner” was acquired to provide a place for a child to go when they want to chill out. As Elektra Greer, Head of Children’s and Teen  Services explained, “Our ability to have strong partnerships with  a wide range of community service organizations has been  essential to our ongoing success and sustainability—it has planted seeds in gardens we did not even  know existed. We’ve been continually surprised at the people and groups who have reached out to us, once they’ve learned about the work we are doing, and the community we’ve created.” Amy Fontenot, bilingual Children and Teen Services librarian, reached out to Caminando Juntos, a support group for Latinos who have children with disabilities—and who are often a very underserved community in any city, according to Greer. TinkerMill, another partner and the largest Makerspace in Colorado, cohosted several Makerspace programs and is helping to facilitate after-hours programming for children and teens on the spectrum.

Longmont Library staff hold examples of robotic toys. Pictured left to right: Judith Anderson, Katherine Weadley, Jalali Hartman, Amy Fontenot, and Elektra Greer

 

ROBAUTO, a Boulder-based robotics company specializing in education and adaptive robots, sought out a partnership with the library. They are currently co-facilitating an innovation team of both neuro-typical young adults and young adults on the spectrum to work on the creation of a robot to assist children with autism in using the library. What did the staff learn by offering these programs? Staff discovered that after-hours programming worked better for these families, when they could access the library’s resources in a friendly and welcoming environment where they didn’t need to worry about being judged by other library customers. Families also said they preferred to use the items in the library; they were reluctant to take items home because they might become broken or lost. Lastly, partnering can make programs more creative and inclusive because partners share their knowledge and can use word-of-mouth to increase participation. Five Ways Libraries Can Serve Children with Autism

  • Offer a sensory story time
  • Purchase special technology: computer tablets, apps, and noise-cancelling headphones
  • Carve out a “quiet corner”
  • Allow families to come after hours
  • Partner with local groups serving children with autism
Programs: 
Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies