webinar review: Serving Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder, part 2

In part two of the webinar I learned more about serving youth with ASD, specifically about their sensory needs. Touch is a big part of development for youth with ASD, so programs such as Sensory Storytime – which utilize soft scarves, wet bubbles, and fuzzy felt – are fun and instructive. The webinar presenter Lesley Farmer had the idea to have volunteers install sensory tags inside books for this group of young people. For example, adhering felt, fake flowers, or aluminum foil over other images in the books can turn a book into more than a reading device. This heightened sensory experience can really draw a child into the book.

Another important feature when holding a class or program for youth with ASD is to tell them upfront how the program with progress. Having a timeline of the events or songs will help you youth prepare for the change in tempo or station.

Farmer named a few resources for class participants to check out, including:

Squidalicious – the author of this blog posts videos of her son so viewers can better understand behaviors of youth with ASD, but she is quick to say that not all people with ASD are similar. But I appreciate her giving us an idea because many of us just don’t know.

Zac Browser – This browser is “a virtual playground for children with autism”. Children and parents can access games that are chosen specifically for their positive effect on the young players.

Google games with Autism – Google got on board in 2009 (although you’d think it was 1982, what with that oddly dated picture on the main page). Their page has links to games, tips for parents, and more.

The most important thing I learned from this is that every single child with ASD is unique and different. Just like fingerprints and zebra stripes, no two people with ASD are 100% alike. Because of that, we shouldn’t just offer one type of program and say “Alright. Quota filled.” Instead we should offer a couple different programs to encourage different abilities and interests to shine. In LCPL we host Sensory Storytime for those ages 3 and up, and we offer Gamer’s Union (a gaming program) for those ages 12-18. We have covered development of senses and social interaction, but we have other areas to cover. I hope to be able to create and promote programs for youth with ASD, whether they are special (just for youth with ASD) or inclusive (regular programs that accept youth with ASD).

What programs do you host, or have you heard of?

Loving the Homeless

This post’s title may seem a bit odd to you, but bear with me as I tell you about yesterday’s inspiring luncheon.

I attended a luncheon yesterday hosted by the INOVA Loudoun Hospital’s Chaplaincy Services and Community Affairs offices. The topic of the event was Focusing on the Homeless Children in Our Community. I was invited to this event because of my work over the summer with the Mobile Hope unit which included getting nutritious food into the hands of a few homeless teens that frequent my library. LCPL’s manager of programming and public relations, Linda Holtslander, accompanied me to the lunch, as she has been very supportive of my efforts.

The event’s guest speaker was Stacey Bess, a teacher from Utah whose first classroom experience was in a homeless community underneath a bridge. Yes, underneath a bridge. She has written about her experiences in her memoir Nobody Don’t Love Nobody which was turned into a Hallmark movie Beyond the Blackboard. (Thanks to INOVA for purchasing a copy of the book for each guest at the luncheon.)

What really struck me yesterday was Bess’ description of the ‘loss cycle’. So many of the homeless children she has taught over the years were abandoned, beaten, broken down emotionally and mentally…they were caught in the loss cycle. Everyone that should have loved them either left them or hurt them. They are left without support, love, or an education (social, moral, and intellectual); no wonder so many of them cannot get out of the homeless/impoverished cycle.

‘The foundation of service is love,” she said. We must love them, so that they can know what it feels like, so that they can grow into confident and strong individuals.

Some people think that I shouldn’t get involved in the lives of the troubled teens in my library/community. That I should let social services/the school system/their parents attend to them. But those institutions so far have not worked hard enough (or at all) for these children. They are still lost, unloved. If I can show them love, then their confidence might grow, which might increase their chances at leading a life unlike the poor one they have led thus far. All they need is for someone to show them that they are worthy of a better life.

CEO of INOVA Loudoun Hospital closed the luncheon with the question, “How, in this resource-rich county, can we serve these kids?” I don’t have an answer to that yet, but I belong to a system of community leaders and concerned citizens that will figure one out. Whether it is building more shelters, securing funding for feeding these teens on non-school days, or buying more Mobile Hope vans in order to access more homeless youth on a more frequent basis…we will do it.

I welcome advice and ideas. I cannot do this alone.

Military brats

School Library Journal just tweeted a link to an article titled Military Kids with Deployed Parents Suffer Academically, Study Says. The study reports that elementary and middle school students whose parents are deployed for more than 19 months show declined reading scores. This is the type of study that gets my little librarian heart beating, and not just because I sympathize with the children whose mom or dad (of Heaven forbid, both) is gone for such a long period of time. But because it gives librarians near military bases a goal: fix that decline.

An author interviewed for the article believes that getting the child to candidly talk about the deployment (or just talk, period) is a way to fix the emotional and psychological problems that coincide with being the child of a deployed soldier/Marine/sailor. So how do we do this?

I literally just Googled library programs for military children and received 1.2 million results. The best I read are as follows:

1. Blue Star Families, an organization that supports military families, started the Books on Bases program that donates books to children of military families in an effort to “to positively impact the lives of military children through the power of reading”. They visited the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek Libraries in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, VA earlier this month.

2. The Department of Defense last year started its very first Summer Reading program called Voyage to Book Island. Its program is similar to most public library SR programs, including using a reading log to track time spent/pages read, doles out prizes, and hosts events. No report yet on if the DOD plans on re-creating the effort for Summer 2011.

…and that is it.

Some libraries have collections of childrens books on the topics of deployment, relocation, death of a loved one, etc. But in my hours worth of searching, I did not find anything about actual events, plans, or ideas to help/work with children during a parent’s deployment. Even worse, I did not find anything from non-military base libraries. Are public libraries just expecting military base libraries to pick up that duty? Or do they not realize that there is a population with this specific need?

So here is my challenge…come up with programming ideas for children of deployed parents that encourages them to read and to talk. Lets zero-out that decline in reading points and get these kids talking. I will post updates as I have ideas both from myself or those I talk to.

Annnnnnnd go!

An update…Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games

Back in September I had the honor of hearing Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games trilogy and Gregor the Overlander speak at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. I even wrote up a few fun facts about the author that she revealed during her talk. I felt a kinship with her; military brats for life!

(She is so pretty!)

Today, 7 months later, Suzanne Collins is in the media again. The Hunger Games film is in the works and the cast is being established, bringing about much discussion amongst fans, naysayers, and everyone in between. The young adult library/librarian listservs I belong to have erupted with casting news and the obligatory dissenting opinions. Opinions include: “Her skin color isn’t right!” “He is too old!” and “But, he isn’t who I wanted cast for that character!

With all the publicity being done for them, the NYT deemed this moment a very appropriate one to whip out their expose on the elusive Ms. Collins in their article Suzanne Collins’ War Stories for Kids. (A bit dramatic, eh, NYT?) **Disclaimer, clicking this link will put you at one less NYT click for this month. Use your discretion!

It’s an article worth reading as it discusses Collins’ personal life (which gives insight into why she wrote a book about children in war), professional career (she used to write for Wow Wow Wubbzy??!), and feelings about her book being compared to other dystopian battling-children stories. I truly love this author for her candidness, honesty, and true appreciation at being made into a J.K. Rawling-esqu icon for readers of all ages. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next!

Professional goals…

My professional aspirations include being a teen librarian, branch manager, director, grand pooh bah, etc. But I think if I were ever to hold the following event I would die a happy woman…

Stuffed Animal Sleepover!!

This is absolutely the cutest idea I have ever heard of, and I want to host one right this very moment! (But sadly, I work in a university library. Not only would the staff and students laugh at me, they might make me into the main specimen in a Psychology Department term project.) The idea is to have children bring their stuffed animal to the library for a sleepover, animals only! The youngsters tuck their critters into sleeping bags, under sheets, on top of pillows, etc., and join them while the librarians lead a storytime. Then the children go home, but the librarians do not! They stage photo-ops with the stuffed animals: browsing for books, checking materials out, putting items in the book drop, and more. Then the children come back the next morning to retrieve their stuffed animal and a few pictures from the wild and crazy night!

If you don’t think this is adorable/funny/fabulous you need to check your pulse.

Look at these pictures!

(from the blog Come Into Delight)

And this wonderful video from the Middleburg Heights Branch Library of the Cuyahoga County Public Library System:

Also, what a great way to get older children to get over their need of having a stuffed animal with them at all times (like before they start elementary school, where such a thing isn’t permitted).

Thanks to the library blog Tiny Tips for Library Fun whose March 2009 blog entry detailed this fantastic program.

The honesty of children

I was just perusing my favorite librarian blogs and came across this entry from the blog Screwy Decimal (get it?). It reminded me of a similar situation in which I feel the urge to share with you.

Back in the Winter of 2007 I was a server/waitress at a nice chophouse in Southern Maryland as a way to make a little extra money. (Because ‘full-time student’ and ‘part-time library associate’ weren’t enough to fill my time…) I had a table of a couple pretentious adults who thought it was a good idea to take their elementary-school aged daughter and her friend to a nice restaurant. The adults drank and didn’t speak to each other, the girls sat at another table, talked endlessly and enjoyed their chicken tenders, fries, and Shirley Temples. As they were preparing to leave, the girls handed me a hand-written note that detailed why, exactly, I was their favorite waitress ever. Amongst other things, they liked my curly hair, smile, and that I stopped to talk to them. I still have the note (is it in my storage unit? my desk?) and whenever I happen to stumble across it, it makes my day all over again.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love children and young adults. They are honest, but not to a fault (a la grandma circa Christmas 2002 when she asked…well, you know what she asked). They are polite to adults who are polite to them. They are emotional, interested, and so different from each other. I am impatiently awaiting the day I can get back into a job field that allows me to work with and for these special little creatures.