Blogger Children and Technology Committee

Creating a Welcoming Environment for Kids with Sensory Issues

How does your library  welcome children with special needs?   Have you thought about offering sensory storytimes for children on the autism spectrum or with sensory processing issues? Can technology help librarians serve this population better?  Amy Price, Librarian at Oakstone Academy in Westerville, Ohio developed Digital Sensory Storytime to help meet student needs. Oakstone serves many students with autism or sensory processing issues. Additionally, in cooperation with the State Library of Ohio, Price created a series of video tutorials that detail her process: Digital Sensory Storytime on the Ohio Ready to Read website. This site also includes a resource guide with a sample digital sensory storytime, app recommendations, and more! It a wonderful starting point for anyone interested in understanding and serving this population.

Interestingly, Price has found interactive digital stories have particular aspects that are especially effective for children with sensory processing issues. Price notes three essential characteristics of an interactive digital story:

  • full color pictures
  • full text (preferably highlighted)
  • an audio read to me function

For example, the read to me function of a digital book is especially valuable because it can be understood more easily by a person with auditory processing issues: the word is pronounced exactly the same each time in the digital story, whereas a human voice may pronounce the same word slightly differently each time.

Example of a page from a social story created by the author.
Example of a page from a social story created by the author.

Additional techniques Price includes are picture schedules, social stories and how to create them, and other aspects to consider such as lighting, sounds, smells, etc. when thinking about creating a welcoming environment to support these children. The video tutorials definitely increased my own awareness of differing needs. And don’t worry if you don’t have time/staff to create an entirely new program: Price advocates for including these children in traditional storytime and offers tips to help make inclusion successful.

If you are interested in learning more about serving patrons with autism and sensory processing issues, there are many great resources to help you get started:

  • ALSC Blogger Renee Grassi posts on sensory storytimes (and films) and serving children with special needs offer more insight and resources.
  • Videos and resources from Libraries & Autism: We’re Connected, developed by the Scotch Plains Public Library and Fanwood Memorial Library are helpful for all library staff as children who come to storytime will also check out materials and visit other parts of the library.
  • Also of note is a recent book Programming for Children and Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Barbara Klipper, ALA Editions, 2014.

Robin L. Gibson is a Youth Services Librarian at the Westerville Public Library in Westerville Ohio and member of the Children and Technology Committee.

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