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?


Literacy: a problem, a program

“Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.”- National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)

The U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics put the number of adult below-basic literacy at 22%. 22. Almost a quarter of this country, according to their study, “possess no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills”.

This is a problem, folks. If you cannot read then you cannot graduate from high school (though that is debatable, as I have encountered plenty of people who were just passed through the system because teachers and administrators didn’t want to “deal with them” anymore), you cannot (likely) get a solid job, you cannot teach your child to read/graduate/get a good job, etc. Illiteracy in this developed country that we live in is a problem.

     I met a wonderful Parks and Recreation employee in my county last year, and we have been bouncing ideas off each other ever since. She runs a group for teens called THRIVE: Teens Harvesting Responsibility in Volunteer Experiences. The group of middle school students meets once a week to discuss an issue in the community, then one Saturday a month they meet for a “work day” to actually work on the issue. They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. They learn, research, then serve. Previous community service topics include animal shelters and hunger. A topic my friend is currently working on the curriculum for is literacy. That is what got me thinking about ways that teens can promote literacy in the library. Here are some ideas:

1. Meet with the local literacy council to learn about the local issues, of which there may be a very specific need. In Loudoun County, for example, the Literacy Council accepts book donations that get delivered to the county shelters. The Sweet Dreams program every Thursday night has adult volunteers teach adults how to properly read aloud to their children. This enhances the parent-child relationship, and encourages reading for both parties. While teens are not permitted to participate in this program (must be over 18), they can solicit for book donations, and can pack book bags of reading materials for the adults to take to the shelter.

2. Set up a table in the lobby (or other well-traveled area of the library) with literature on the topic and make posters informing people about the issue of illiteracy in their community. Discuss the issue with interested library patrons.

3. Teens can host a read-in to raise awareness of illiteracy in their community. This should be done in conjunction with the aforementioned informational table so that library patrons know why that group of teens is sitting in the middle of the lobby reading silently to themselves. Teens can take turns reading silently to themselves and discussing the issue with interested library patrons.

4. Host a book drive, and all books collected can go to the family shelters and food banks. Books can be distributed to families at no cost.

What kind of literacy awareness programs have you hosted in your library?

NASA: Where can we go if we aren’t going up?

I was leafing through a recent issue of Time Magazine this morning and came across beautiful images of the U.S. Space Program taken by Dan Winters, a photojournalist who has long been documenting the program’s many take-offs.

    With the future of U.S. manned missions into outer space, the photographs of Endeavor could be the last ever taken of such a program. My aunt, who lives near Cape Canaveral, has been sending me images of take-offs for a few years. Since that first email in 2009, I have found myself oddly fascinated with the space program, reading anything I can, tracking missions, and, most recently, was crazy thrilled that I got to see Discovery fly around the skies of Washington, DC on its way to its indefinite home at the Air & Space Museum in Dulles, VA. In an uncanny turn of events, the Summer Reading Program theme at my library was Invade Your Library, a space, astronaut, and alien theme that included programs hosted by NASA scientists and astronomers. It began the week of the Venus Transit and ended the day the rover Curiosity landed on Mars. (Seriously, that kind of perfect timing must have been planned by some alien trying to mess with my sanity, because that is just too perfect.)

     I have no desire to go into space myself (no where to go, and I’d combust if I “jumped ship”), nor am I completely behind spending $2.5 billion when things are pretty bad on this planet (hunger, unemployment, cancer, AIDS, etc.) and could use some of that money. But I support the space program because it is such a point of fascination with young people who so desperately need to understand that there is a world beyond their own, that their is a profession that could encourage them to think so far outside the box that they would literally end up on another planet. I support the space program because even if they don’t become astronauts (of which there are currently 53…a kid would have a better chance at becoming a medal-winning US Olympian than an astronaut), there are science-, technology-, and engineering-related fields that they could go into, but only after being inspired by space exploration. If they are not inspired as children by watching shuttle take-offs, landings on Mars, and interviews with recently-returned home astronauts, who will engineer these cockpits? Who will create better space suits?

     With so many school systems being instructed to “teach to the test”, there is little room for creativity and outside interests to be discussed and nurtured in the classroom. With working and single parents, and the busy busy!! rush rush!! that is the teen life, there is little discussion or nurturing of creative interests for teenagers in their homes. Our teens are fighting for spots on team rosters or in AP classes, or fighting to get enough to eat at night or to get attention from any adult…how can they find the time to be inspired? I am blaming both school systems and parents here. We take little kids to Air Shows and they explore new lands with Dora on TV every night, but what are we doing for our tweens? Our teens? You know, the age where life starts becoming a tad difficult, dramatic, and, at least in my experience, not without some depressing moments? How can we ensure that they are being given ample time and opportunity to discover rare fields of professional interest, and not choosing a career path just because it is what they were told they would be good at, or what they could do without any effort?

     Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, two astronauts who literally paved the way for future astronauts (and women) passed away this summer. Their names will be on the lips of school teachers and children for generations to come, as the first man on the moon and the first American woman in space. If we do away with manned missions to outer space, leaving no more “firsts” to be conquered, then how will today’s youth be inspired to explore? The mohawk guy did a good job of getting people talking about a young rocker’s place in a NASA laboratory, but did it inspire anyone? Only if they listened to the interview of him and a coworker on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

The interview, aired on August 11 a mere 5 days after they helped Curiosity land on Mars, unveils the incredible path mohawk dude’s coworker Adam Steltzner took to become a mechanical engineer for NASA. Steltzner admitted that he wasn’t the best student, so he dropped out of high school. What got him back on track was:

I became intrigued at the fact that there were a different set of stars in the sky as I’d drive home from playing a show as there had been when I went to the show. And I had some vague recollection about something moving with respect to something else. But I frankly didn’t really know what it was.

So he enrolled at the local community college and a couple decades later found himself in the nation’s (if not the world’) spotlight as the lead mechanical engineer for the Mars Rover landing. A high school dropout was inspired by what he saw in the sky at night, so he enrolled in community college to find the answer to the questions he was asking. This guy could be the guy whose story inspires a teen who doesn’t perform in school so well to seek out the answer to the things that make him say, “How?” “Why?”

We need to get voices and stories like Steltzner’s heard by the tweens and teens whose interests are otherwise thwarted by busy schedules or unsupportive or disinterested parents and communities. We need to encourage teens to do more than the status quo, to look beyond what they are given and told, to seek answers to questions, to go further than they ever expected themselves to go. And I don’t just mean in science and space exploration. I mean art, technology, teaching, librarianship, military, everything! How can we do this?

How can each of us, regardless of our profession, inspire tweens and teens? This is a question I ask myself on a weekly basis. When I plan programs at the library, when I train new volunteers, or even when I just chat with a couple of teens, I am asking myself, “How can I encourage/inspire/guide/help/support them?” I am not in the business of pointing. When someone asks for help I engage them in a conversation, pulling out of them exactly what they need, or perhaps, a vague idea of what they are interested in. And we go from there. Some call it the “reference interview”, I call it “ask until they can’t answer anymore”. Please leave a comment or email me with examples of how you have inspired or encourage tweens or teens to go after their interests. I would love to hear from you.


Programming is a big part of public library services. Books, periodicals, and computers are critical to a library, but programming is what encourages the customers to actually spend time in the building, getting to know other patrons as well as staff members. Some libraries are spot on when it comes to programming. I had an interview last week at a beautiful library in Virginia that offered a gaming night specifically for children with autism, which coincidentally coincided with an informal meeting of parents of children with autism. The library staff noticed a trend (library patrons with autism) and did something about it. This is how we should be planning programs!

The following is a recently-released publication that shows us exactly what our patrons are checking out:

(Thanks to the blog Agnostic, Maybe)

Cooking, health, politics, business, travel, self-help…those are the most checked-out topics from public libraries. (I do not know where these stats came from. But even if they are incorrect, go with me here…) So we should be planning accordingly!

Dive deep into your circulation software and analyze your recent check-outs to determine what is being checked out. Or ask your reference librarians what topics they are usually researching on behalf of customers. Plan programs accordingly. We need to plan programs for our customers, not for ourselves. We need to get out of our way. THAT is how we will stay relevant.