by Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski
In this final installment of the series examining programs for children with special needs and their families, I share ideas on two final topics: potential partnerships and future possibilities for this specialized programming.
As mentioned in Part One, reaching out to community organizations affiliated with special needs is beneficial not only to attract participants but also to gain feedback in both the planning and assessment of programming. Partnerships will be influenced by proximity, quality of contacts made and their willingness to support your efforts. The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County’s partnership with the Autism Society of Mecklenburg County has resulted in invaluable information being shared about a myriad of topics ranging from a better understanding of behaviors exhibited in the Library to use of the schedule board during programs and ultimately the production of a training video to assist other library staff considering special needs programming. To locate your local chapter of the Autism Society, visit their website: www.autism-society.org
To locate potential partners, ask parents who attend your programs for ideas. Our programs are promoted on a special needs forum courtesy of one of our patrons who is a member. Check the Internet for parenting websites; for example, in our area Charlotte Parent Magazine’s website lists area support groups ranging from dysfunction of sensory integration to Down syndrome to parents of children with food allergies.
Reading the local newspaper may provide leads regarding collaborative efforts. An article highlighting the Allegro Foundation (www.allegrofoundation.net) introduced me to this local non-profit organization that provides free movement-based instruction for children with special needs. I have observed a number of their classes to gain ideas for music activities for the Rhythm and Rhyme storytime and met with the organization to discuss their philosophy and program plans. We also cross-promote at our events to reach a broader audience and support each other’s efforts.
Building a relationship with your local school district as well as private schools may also allow opportunities to promote and improve your programming. You may find schools in your area with an “autism track” or other type of specialty education. Metro School, part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, serves students with cognitive disabilities. These students range in age from 5 to 22 and have been determined to benefit from separate public school placement. Depending on the size of your local school district, you may also have an option such as Metro School. Visiting Metro School was helpful for exposure to adaptable books and other teaching tools.
Other potential partners may include state programs through universities related to developmental or special needs (e.g. TEACCH– Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped CHildren in affiliation with the University of North Carolina), early intervention services (e.g. “Together We Grow” in North Carolina) and local governmental organizations such as your county’s parks and recreation department.
Because this is an area of innovation in library services, there is much potential to be developed. While I have led monthly programs at Matthews Branch Library, I aspire to gain an audience large enough to repeat the same program twice on the same Saturday. With an ideal class size being 10-12 children and their caregivers, rather than have too large of a group, the effort to repeat the class would be welcome and preferable.
I foresee a benefit in having “storytime to go kits” for Rhythm & Rhyme programs. These kits, possibly housed in a plastic container, would contain all materials necessary to provide one ready-made storytime at any location in our system, including the program plan and tips for presenters. Adapting books to utilize in programming is a wide-open realm of potential. In the simplest method, adapting books is done by placing three-dimensional objects (most typically by using Velcro for actual adherence to pages of the story) and/or picture cards into the book for the child’s enjoyment of an added hands-on visual to enhance the literary experience. Another option is removing pages from a book and placing them into a binder with Velcro picture cards that create discussion about the story. While I have yet to incorporate these items into storytime, I see possibilities for their use in the future and plan to partner with our local school district to create a small library of these materials for use in programming.
Last weekend, I took the Rhythm and Rhyme program “on the road” and presented the program at a branch about thirty miles away from Matthews. We have been attracting patrons from that distance to attend our storytime, including a family with a four-year old child with autism who lives close to this particular branch. Her mother spoke with me after class and expressed that she never thought of the library as an option for her family before she saw an article in the Charlotte Weekly about the Rhythm and Rhyme storytime this spring. She had no idea that the branch where I presented existed before she attended the recent class (and it’s only FIVE minutes from her home). While she and her daughter were participating in the program, her husband and other daughter were getting their first library cards with PLCMC. This patron has seen such positive results with her daughter from just a few months of attendance at the Rhythm and Rhyme program that she is considering registering for regular weekly storytimes. She said having a child with special needs is expensive and families of modest means will definitely benefit from this free program as a therapy option based upon the progress she has observed with her daughter.
Our patron’s comments reinforce our efforts to provide special needs programming. First, we provide this service in order to build library relationships through serving patrons who are un-served or underserved. Secondly, we provide this service to encourage families to consider participation in all library programming (while offering the accepting, nonjudgmental environment of the Rhythm and Rhyme program as an option for those who prefer it). And, of course, we provide this service to enhance the literacy and social experience of our participants and their families. I encourage any library staff with interest in this type of programming and the support of their library administration to give special needs programming an attempt. The rewards for participants, presenters and the organization will far outweigh all efforts invested.