ALA Annual 2014

Programming on the Autism Spectrum #alaac2014

Serving children on the autism spectrum can be an intimidating endeavor, particularly if you have little to no experience working with these families.  However, as the session I attended yesterday afternoon discussed, libraries are absolutely not alone in this.  “Creating Collaborations:  Successful Partnerships that Serve Children with Autism” included presentations by four librarians who highlighted several different kinds of partnerships available to the vast majority of public libraries.  From working with special education teachers to occupational therapists and museums to hospitals, there are programs and organizations all over dedicated to serving children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Why is this so important?  According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder is on the rise.  The new statistic is 1 in 68 children.  That’s a lot of kids. Jen Taggart, Bloomfield Township Public Library in Michigan, discussed the special collections her library curates for this group.  Items in this collection include tactile illustrative braille books, speech therapy card collections, and adaptive toys with built in switches to adapt for children with low fine motor skills.  She also discussed a variety of programs they have done at their library which include sensory storytimes, yoga classes, theatre workshops, and a gardening program.  I’ve never thought about gardening being a good fine motor skill activity for kids but it definitely is.  She talked about how important it is to work with the educational professionals in your area; a great idea when you are not the expert.

Holly Jin from the Skokie Public Library discussed partnering with a range of institutions including Lekotek (, local hospitals and shelters and she discussed using dogs for therapy.  Not a “read to Rover” program, but an actual therapy session where the dogs do activities like crawl through tunnels to encourage the children to do the same.  Carrie Banks of the Children’s Place for Children With Special Needs discussed a large collaboration between her organization, the Brooklyn Public Library, and Music for Autism ( which resulted in 8 free concerts at their public library serving over 650 patrons including several Spanish speaking families with autism.

The session wrapped up with Sarah Hinkle from the Queens Library.  They discussed a partnership they have formed with the Queens Museum of Art.  I had never really thought about how families with kids with special needs tend to avoid cultural institutions like museums because of the fear that they will disturb the peace and quiet, but this program strives to make families with special needs feel welcome.

Awesome resources were discussed, especially the SNAIL networking group in Chicago (

I’m looking forward to implementing some of these ideas in my work and I hope this is helpful to all of you!

Suzanne Walker
Indiana State Library
Indianapolis, IN

Carrie Banks, Queens Library, visits with Sammy the Interviewing Toucan
Carrie Banks, Children’s Place for Children with Special Needs, Brooklyn, visits with Sammy the Interviewing Toucan.


  1. Susan Levy

    Incorrect photo caption: Carrie Banks is in charge of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Child’s Place for Children with Special Needs, NOT the Queens Library.

    1. Suzanne Walker Post author

      It has been corrected. Thank you Susan!

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