Child Advocacy

ABCs of Inclusive Youth Programming

I’ve heard it said that if you meet one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.  Whether delays are in the areas of communication, social interaction, or behavior, each child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has their own individual set of strengths and challenges.  When a child with autism registers for a library program, look at it as an opportunity to create an inclusive program.  So where should you begin?  With your ABCs, of course!

A — Adjust your mindset

A child with autism may participate in Library programs differently than a child without autism.  For example, if you have a child with ASD, he or she may not feel comfortable with making eye contact with you.  They may also want to walk around the room, sit next to you, or touch the book that you are reading.  That does not mean, however, that the child is not listening or enjoying the story.  Redirect, if necessary, but do not scold this behavior; they are just experiencing the program in a different way.  If there is a storytime element to your program, be prepared with several options for stories.  If your audience is not receptive to the book you have chosen, try another one.  Do not be afraid to be flexible and try something different.

B — Boardmaker…and PCS

Providing structure to your program with large group or individual picture schedules can provide children with autism the opportunity to anticipate what activities are coming next.  Consider using picture cards to aid in transitioning between activities or areas. Boardmaker can be used to create these support systems.  It is a user friendly software program offering a 3,000 Picture Communication Symbol (PCS) library in black/white and color.  Searching is a breeze and creating symbols is quick and easy, too.  An added bonus: the pictures and the text are customizable!  It has been my experience that providing more structure to a program gives children more confidence, and also provides a sense of accomplishment when an activity is completed.

C — Calming Strategies

Children with ASD may show overstimulation and stress in a variety of way, including screaming, loud vocalizations, or even aggressive behavior.  Having calming strategies in place when a child begins to show early signs of anxiety can help you before the behavior gets extreme.  A supportive chair or a gel pad can provide a more comfortable and defined environment.  Tangle toys and Koosh balls are effective for children who need more sensory experiences.  Ask the child to count to five and take deep breaths.  Because every child is different, the calming strategies will vary from child to child.  If you are unsure about what strategies might be effective, make a phone call or schedule a face to face meeting with the parent or caregiver.  This will provide you with an opportunity to learn about the child’s triggers, and will show the parent that you are committed to including their child in the storytime.

April 2 is Autism Awareness Day.  Be informed: Autism Spectrum Disorder affects on average one in every 110 children. Now more than ever libraries need to provide programming and services that are inclusive.  What are you doing to welcome children with autism in your library?


Our guest blogger today is Renee Grassi, a Youth Services Librarian at the Deerfield Public Library in Deerfield, Illinois.

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



  1. Amanda Moon

    I agree with this blog post totally. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to work with any ASD children, but this blog has spiked my interest in learning. I am now following several different blogs about ASD and Autism. I want to gain all the knowledge that I can from their insights. Thank you for posting ABC’s.

  2. Pingback: Selecting Books for Special Needs Storytimes | ALSC Blog

  3. Michelle

    This post is reassuring that other professionals are adapting programs for children with special needs. I help children with special needs and their caregivers to develop communication using books but many have to be adapted to meet their level. I’m glad that others are on the same page!

  4. William Salas

    My library would like to offer programming for teens with autism. What sort of programs have worked in your libraries?

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