Adventures in Storytime — starting a program for children with autism and related disabilities

When you start a new program, you enter it with expectations, some apprehensions and the hope that, in the end, everything will work out positively.  That belief tends to sum up my current situation with trying to muster an interest in our storytime for children with autism and related disabilities.  My colleague, Lisa, and I initiated our first story-time for children with autism and related disabilities which we dubbed “Adventures in Storytime” on the third Thursday in November.  We had marketed the program through flyers, word-of-mouth, and email to Special Education teachers in our area and also our county library’s social media site.    We chose a concept based story, and using the Boardmaker software through the Autism Speaks grant, we put together visuals and some manipulatives which could be used in conjunction with our story.

Our book was Dog’s Colorful Day: A Messy Story About Colors and Counting by Emma Dodd.  Lisa enlarged a huge white dog as seen in the book.  We used the Boardmaker software to create and print out his various spots.  These spots were our manipulatives and a way to engage the children to participate by encouraging them to place the spot onto the dog as we introduced each new color in the story.   Other areas of preparation included putting together a list of songs, a visual schedule that showed a pictorial order of how the storytime would be organized and to introduce a “letter of the day” concept that we learned after watching our peers at Nova’s Alvin Sherman library.  We had spent some time observing the program at Nova and we were inspired by many of their ideas.  We would later adopt some of these ideas and also add our own to the program.  Our observation of the staff at the Alvin Sherman library’s program helped alleviate some of our fears regarding facilitating a program at our own library.

As the day of the event approached, we had just one family sign up.  We felt a little discouraged, but as anyone who does library programming knows, you still give it your all even if just one person shows up.  As the story-time came closer, we had one mom and her little girl waiting.  We let them into the room and briefly spoke to the mother about the program.  You could tell that the mom was a little apprehensive between being the only one there, and wondering whether it was really okay for her child to be in this storytime.  Since they were the only family to show up, the little girl and her mom got to do all the colors.  We reassured the mom that if her daughter did not want to come up to the felt board, that it was alright.  To my and Lisa’s surprise, the little girl, who started out a little uncertain, became comfortable as the story was read.  She enjoyed coming up to place a color spot on the dog.  Now, with autism spectrum disabilities, there are no two that are alike.  Some children will be more comfortable than others and it is something you need to keep in mind when doing a storytime for children with autism and related disabilities. You take your cues from them.  At the end of the program, we had a very happy little girl who enjoyed the story and music.

Post-Mortem:  If you schedule it, will they come? How do you get the word out?

After only attracting one child to our first program, we were determined to increase participation in December.  I sent out our flyers to the schools locally and district wide, posted information on our Library’s Facebook page, tweeted our flyer and placed information out at the desk.  I even sent a flyer and graphic for Broward County’s ESE Advisory Facebook page; their president, Nathalie was very kind and immediately posted our flyer with encouragement to her page followers to take a look at our program.  It really gave me hope.  Yet, as our program date drew closer, not one person signed up.  To say our spirits were low was an understatement.  Lisa sent an invitation to Kendra, a teacher at the Baudhuin Preschool at Nova Southeastern University who has been advising and guiding us as we embarked on our program.  Kendra came out the afternoon of our second program.  She was very supportive, and sat with Lisa and me and helped us brainstorm on how we could improve exposure for the program in January.

Keeping things in perspective

After talking to Kendra, we realized that we had more than a few obstacles to overcome.  First, we were trying to start up a new program during the holiday season when people are already busy and over-scheduled.  Second, I had forgotten what it was like as a parent of a now teen with Asperger’s Syndrome how much all the extra supports required often left me exhausted.  Many parents whose kids are on the spectrum walk in similar shoes.  It doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy for much else.  Sometimes, as parents, we were so focused on the therapies; we forgot to look at the rest of the child.  I was reminded about this by Kendra and realized that this might take more time and much more patience on my part.  Third, Kendra, Lisa and I began to brainstorm other ways to get the word out even considering taking our program to a few of the clusters and pre-school support programs and maybe speaking before the parents at the next ESE advisory meeting.

This brings me back to my first statement:  Any time you start a new program, you enter it with expectations, some apprehensions and the hope that in the end, everything will work out positively.    I now know that this will take more time and probably even more commitment than I previously realized.  My expectations were high and that’s a good thing.  You want a positive attitude and you want to be excited.  Apprehensive, yes.  One month someone showed up, the next month, no one.  I’ve seen the worst case scenario and we’re still standing.  Finally, I truly believe as we start to get more word out, everything will work out.  There is a need for this type of program and we will keep letting our parents know that they and their children are welcome in the library and that it is a place for EVERYONE.

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Picture of “Sue and Sue” at the Field Museum in Chicago courtesy of blogger’s daughter, Caitlin Ostroff

Picture of “Sue and Sue” at the Field Museum in Chicago courtesy of blogger’s daughter, Caitlin Ostroff

Our guest blogger today is Susan Ostroff.  Susan is  a Youth Services librarian for Broward County Library.   She  enjoys coming up with interesting program ideas and teaching others how to use databases. One of her goals is to develop more programs in the library for children and their families with special needs. She is married and the mom to four kids, two Labrador Retrievers and two pet Dumbo rats.  In her spare time, you will find her partaking in her photography hobby and occasionally some cake decorating.  Her photos can be seen at http://www.susanostroff.com/  Her library can be visited at http://www.broward.org/library/

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

This entry was posted in Guest Blogger, Programming Ideas, Special Needs Awareness, Storytime and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Adventures in Storytime — starting a program for children with autism and related disabilities

  1. Holly J. says:

    What a great post, Sue! I had to smile when I read it because I’ve had the same experience telling the flannel version of Dog’s Colorful Day to only one child. :-) Our Sensory Storytime began with small numbers as well. It sounds like you’ll get it going – you have the two most important components, which are passion and dedication! The two things that have helped attendance most at my library are sending flyers out to various therapy organizations and emailing families directly a few weeks and then again the day before the program. Keep up the great work! You are breaking down barriers and opening up opportunities for children!

    • Susan Ostroff says:

      Thanks Holly for the encouragement. We will keep trying to reach more families. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful support system at my library with my co-workers and supervisors who are committed to this program.

  2. Ashley Waring says:

    Susan, I was so glad to read that you are starting a special needs stortyime and appreciate your honesty about how difficult it can be to reach the desired audience. My Sensory Storytime definitely took a while to get up and running. I’ve had weeks with 1 family (usually the weeks I spend a lot of time planning a new activity ;) and weeks with 8 families. You just never know. But it is such an important service and your dedication will pay off! If you haven’t already done so, I’d recommend sending flyers to any Early Intervention offices in your area, as well as ABA service providers or other therapists (private Speech, OT, etc.). Good luck!

    • Susan Ostroff says:

      Hi Ashley,

      We will look at talking to some of the therapy providers in our area. It’s great to hear that more programs are being done for these families. When my son was younger, there was nothing like this in my area. I know from my experience that early intervention is very important. The time spent being immersed in stories and language as well as the social aspect is vital.

  3. Sarah Travis says:

    Susan, I work in West Palm beach and I was curious if you would ever want to chat about what you are doing. I myself am in the process in reaching out to our special needs families! I love hearing from other people and I really loved this post. It just shows how important it is to make the effort!

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