Blogger Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers committee

A Special Needs Summer?

Families that include those with special needs can sometimes struggle with finding inclusive programming. Librarians often feel pressure to provide programming exclusively for special populations. But that’s not necessarily the case. Just having an open and welcoming atmosphere can be all that it takes to make your current programs accessible for everyone.  Are you doing what you can to offer programs for all children? Don’t know where to start?

As a programmer, ask yourself the following questions:

The location of the program-

Are the rooms bright and cheerful without being overwhelming with too many sights and sounds? A calm environment is important for children with sensory issues.

Is light distributed evenly? This is important for children with low vision.

Is the room accessible and clutter free, with clear pathways? Most mobility equipment requires a four to five foot turning radius.

Are there a variety of seating options? Large bolsters and pillows may be arranged to give children more stability and motor control and to ensure their comfort and security.

Staff to participant ratio-

Are all children receiving individual attention? Speaking with children at eye level is an important engagement tool.

Do adults call children by name? Identifying each child makes for a more inclusive environment. You can praise positive behavior when you can call each child by name.

Are there sufficient personnel to respond in the event of emergencies? Having another staff person in the room can help mitigate any immediate problem with minimal disruption to the program.

Are you using parents as partners? Parents can be your best tool! They know their children best. And after all, they are here to make positive memories as a family. Allow them to be a part of your program.

The program activities-

Do you have a variety of developmental activities taking place? Every child works and participates at a different pace. Make sure there are tools and activities for different ages and developmental abilities. This can be as simple as crayons of various sizes, precut craft items, and larger pieces of paper.

Is the information presented in multiple formats? Pictures can provide context about the program and its goals. A soft bell can be an audio clue that something is about to happen in your program.

Just being mindful of the needs of your families can start the conversation about inclusion. Don’t be overwhelmed by the idea of “special needs programming” these small steps will get you on the road to providing a welcoming atmosphere for all your families.

For more tips check out these resources:

Lesley Mason is the Youth Services Manager at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, the DC Public Library’s central branch. She is currently the chair of the ALCS’s Library Service to Special Population Children and Their Caregivers Committee. She earned her Master’s Degree in Library Science from Clarion University. She specializes in Early Literacy and can be reached at


  1. Kelly Doolittle

    Thanks for all the great tips and reminders! I want to look into the large bolsters and pillows for our programming room and talk to our facilities folks about the lighting.

    Sadly, the staffing issue can be one that’s near impossible to deal with. So many of our libraries are under-staffed and budgets won’t allow for the extra staff needed for the best safety practices. But thank you for reminding us at the end of your post that just being mindful of the needs of our special needs patrons is the best place to start – and not getting overwhelmed 🙂

    I’m printing out your post and hanging it by my computer, with highlights on the issues we need to work on the most. We’re all in this together! Thanks again!

    1. Lesley

      Thank you Kelly! I’m so glad the post was helpful to you. 🙂

  2. Holly

    Great reminder and resources. I will add them to our SNAILS blog. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *