We hear the words Autism, “on the spectrum”, and Asperger’s, but do we really know what it means? Do we as librarians and public servants know how to best work with and work for that unique group of people?
Professionals claim that 1 in 90 children have a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Outside of the most severe cases, Autism is not a debilitating disorder. In fact, most children with Autism grow up to be productive members of society. It isn’t their intellect that is stunted, it’s merely their development. With proper programs and treatment (as in, how people treat them, not medical treatment) children with Autism become children (minus the label of Autism) who then become adults (minus the label of Autism). [Note: I understand that every situation is different. I am not trying to downplay or emphasize the issue of ASD. Please take my words as encouraging and hopeful.]
One of the program ideas brought up by the webinar host Lesley Farmer is called Circle of Friends – a program commonly used in schools in the UK. A student is identified as having ASD, and the student, parent, and teacher decide together to coordinate a Circle of Friends. A small group of non-ASD peers will be the child’s helpers, friends, and confidants. They correct the child when he or she behaves incorrectly, they praise the child when he or she reacts appropriately, and they speak for the child when he or she cannot – for example, in times of misunderstanding or bullying.
I think Circle of Friends is one of the most encouraging programs I have ever read about, in terms of assisting someone with a disorder or disability. Instead of ostracizing the children with ASD to separate classrooms or even separate schools, the schools integrate and include the children. This teaches not only the child with ASD, but those without it.
I look forward to next week’s webinar to hear about library-specific programs. Do you host any special programs for children with ASD? Do you have any resources you’d like to share with me?
I recently read and reviewed The Reason I Jump. This powerful memoir written by a young man with Autism is incredibly poignant and informational.