April is Autism Acceptance Month!
Did you know that in 1970, the Autism Society began a nationwide effort to promote autism awareness to assure that all people affected by autism are able to achieve the highest quality of life possible? Then, a few years later in 1972 the Autism Society launched the first annual National Autistic Children’s week which eventually turned into Autism Acceptance Month (AAM). Now, April is officially Autism Acceptance Month! (previously known as Autism Awareness Month)
Autism is a developmental condition that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. Individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder (ASD) may experience:
- Too much or too little sensitivity to sensory stimulation
- Obsessive repetitive routines and anxiety when change occurs
- Difficulties with organizing, sequencing and prioritizing things
- Intense responses to overwhelming situations
- Difficulties in communication and social interactions
Books are essential to everybody, but I want to emphasize how they are especially indispensable to children; specifically, to children who have been diagnosed with ASD. Books teach children vital ways to communicate, make sense of their lives and simply are a source of security and reassurance. For children with ASD, books can often open doors to the world by acting as a navigational guide to complex and confusing social situations. By reading about characters and having a window into their lives, children are able to gain a better understanding that other people have different viewpoints from them, and that it’s okay to have different feelings and ideas than those around you. New and unfamiliar situations can often be very challenging for individuals with ASD. Reading stories can help prepare them for new experiences while also providing effective coping strategies. Books also provide illustrious support for children in other ways too. For example, picture books with lots of repetition and rhythms can encourage children to build and practice language skills. Furthermore, books can also boost the connection between a parent and child when the parent reads out loud with non-fiction books that help bolster a child’s specific interest.
Given the overall broad notion of what Autism truly is as well as the challenges that individuals who have an Autism diagnosis face, it can sometimes be difficult to take the correct steps in making a library environment as welcoming as possible. For example, making it clear what services the library offers by providing adequate signage is something that many libraries throughout the country overlook. Libraries tend to fall into a “one-size fits all” trap, especially when serving a large and diverse group of library patrons. Furthermore, library staff who do not know what to expect from autistic users will often misinterpret behavior such as a meltdown as “dangerous” behavior that requires some sort of disciplinary action.
So what can we do to ensure that library patrons who have an ASD diagnosis are given the best possible service and are given a reason to keep returning to the library? For most people (both with Autism or without), challenges to accessing the library include transportation, conflict with work hours, childcare commitments and/or other obstacles. Once they reach the library itself, navigating the collection and other services offered become pretty straightforward; especially when a library staff is able to point them in the right direction; however, for individuals with Autism and their families, making it into the library and being able to navigate their way inside is not enough to ensure a positive and productive experience. The Illinois Library Association makes the following recommendations to make the library environment more accessible and welcoming for members of the Autistic community.
- Address any issues related to noise and lighting in a timely matter
- Include a map or signage that is color-coded or includes pictures of the different locations of the library
- Provide sensory-related items for patrons to use, such as noise-cancelling headphones, small fidgets, weighted lap pads or small blankets with a variety of different fabrics
- To assist patrons who struggle with executive functioning, providing reminders such as calendars, timers and checklists can help them stay on task and reach a goal
Although there is still a significant amount of work to be done in raising awareness about Autism and ensuring that libraries completely meet the needs of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder as well as their families, there has already been notable progress already made in library systems throughout the country.
Here at L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library we have many accessible resources available that are beneficial to all patrons, no matter your ability. For instance, you might have heard that the library is moving locations! This week the library is transitioning to its temporary location at 2725 Mall Drive while the main facility at 400 Eau Claire Street undergoes some remodeling and expansion allowing for more space within the library. Furthermore, there are a variety of resources that Youth Services offers to aid children in their learning such as online story times (https://www.ecpubliclibrary.info/kids/read/) as well as a collection of online educational games (https://www.ecpubliclibrary.info/kids/play/). In addition, library customers are also able to check-out sensory kits that allows children to explore their world through senses.
L.E. Phillips also has different digital services that patrons are able to access at their convenience. By having a greater access to digital media, individuals who may have a hard time making it to the library will have greater access to the library’s collections.
• Tumble Books (E-books for children)
• Wisconsin Digital Library (Audiobooks, E-books, Graphic Novels, Videos)
• Freading (Graphic Novels, travel guides, non-fiction E-books) • Sawdust City Sounds (Music)
• Freegal (Music and unlimited video streaming) • Hoopla (Audiobooks, E-books, graphic novels, music, videos)
• Flipster (Magazines)
We can’t stop there though, it’s just a start to making our library as inclusive as possible. Raising awareness about what ASD is and is not, the challenges that individuals with ASD face while using libraries, and how libraries can adapt to meet the specific needs of their users with ASD are the first steps to making libraries as autism-friendly as possible.
Maggie Slater, UWEC Social Work Student
Social Work Intern, L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, Spring 2021