Did you know that April is National Autism Awareness Month? According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1 in 68 children have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) nationwide. This dramatic increase is no doubt affecting how libraries provide programs and services that are inclusive and welcoming to those with ASD. Because of that, the state of Illinois has kickstarted the conversation with Targeting Autism: A National Forum on Serving Library Patrons on the Spectrum.
In 2014, the Illinois State Library was awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Forum Grant to help libraries better serve patrons and family members impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This project explores how libraries can work with diverse community organizations and programs to address the topic of ASD, through training, education and support services. The primary goals of the Targeting Autism Forum include:
- Build a shared appreciation of the challenges and opportunities associated with acquiring information on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Identify leadership roles for community libraries in improving community supports and services for individuals with ASD
- Begin fostering stakeholder alignment around a community library ASD initiative
- Begin developing a shared vision of success for a state library initiative on ASD
- Identify next steps
The majority of the participation and conversation will take place at two Autism Stakeholder Forums, which were scheduled for March and September of 2015. This past March, nearly 80 individuals came together representing various stakeholder groups including libraries, schools, institutions of higher education, health services professionals, government agencies, ASD service organizations, and parent advocates. The idea behind the Forums is to inform the creation of an implementation plan. With this plan, the state of Illinois hopes to achieve the following:
- Increase ASD awareness, education, and support services
- Improve adn streamline online access to the wealth of information intended to provide support for families and indiviuals with ASD
- Ensure sustainable, inter-organizational partnerships committed to enhancing ASD support, state-wide
The March Forum offered a wealth of information and inspiration provided by variety of experts and advocates. Among the presenters included self-advocate Adria Nassim from Adria’s Village, who discussed her experience as a reader, a library user, and a person with autism. Participants also heard from former librarian Barbara Klipper about her book Programming for Children and Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as Nancy Farmer, who highlighted content from her book Library Services for Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Dan Weiss discussed his experience partnering with libraries across the state of New Jersey in collaboration on a project called Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected. In addition, forum participants heard from a panel entitled “Training Librarians: What’s Being Done (or Not).” This included a panel of professors from Syracuse University School of Information, Florida State University College of Communication and Information, Dominican University Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and UIUC Graduate School of Library and Information Science. All of the presentations from the March Forum are available on Youtube, so you don’t have to be an Illinois librarian to learn from what the Forum has to offer.
What can you do to help contribute to this effort? Targeting Autism has launched a nationwide effort to collect personal stories that describe an individual’s connection to autism and a statement as to why this initiative is important. Positive, negative, constructive–all experiences are welcome to help inform this process. Simply click here and submit your personal story to Suzanne Schriar, Targeting Autism Project Director. We would love to have your input!
In the meantime, follow the Targeting Autism blog, join the conversation, and think about what you and your library can do today and every day to be a more welcoming place to people with autism.
Renee Grassi is the Youth Department Director at the Glen Ellyn Public Library in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. She is also a “Targeting Autism” Board member. In 2012, she was recognized by Library Journal as a Mover & Shaker for her work serving children with autism and other special needs. She is also one of the co-founding members of SNAILS, a state-wide networking group in Illinois for librarians and library staff who discuss and learn about expanding library services to those with special needs. As a proud ALSC member and a former ALSC Blogger, she has written on the blog about a variety of topics related to inclusive library services.