Autism-friendly storytime at two area libraries

As autism diagnosis rates continue to rise, parents have been seeking more opportunities and extracurricular activities geared toward their children with autism. A new program by the Dayton Metro Library is attempting to help.

A couple years ago, Dayton librarians began receiving requests from parents for a storytime that their children with autism could attend successfully. As the librarians sat down together to hash out some plans, two branch libraries seemed most suited for the pilot program: Wilmington-Stroop and Miami Township, both of which have enclosed meeting rooms with minimal distractions and children’s librarians who have more than the usual library degree.

Melissa Sokol, the children’s librarian at Wilmington-Stroop, used to be a special education teacher at Fairmont High School, and Lisa Loftin at Miami Township has a master’s degree in child development in addition to her master’s in library science.

They’re starting their Sensory Storytime program this month on one Saturday morning per month at each branch library. The storytimes are for children ages 3-8. The storytimes are limited to 10 children at each branch so the crowd noise won’t be overwhelming for the children, who often are oversensitive to noise and other sensory input.

Sokol said the structure, however, won’t differ vastly from a typical storytime.

“The goal is for the children to transition to a regular storytime” after they get accustomed to the special program, she said.

They’ll have storybooks and flannel boards and singing, just like a regular storytime. But the librarians will use picture symbols to indicate the schedule – song time, story time, activity time and so on – and they might even give the children their own schedule boards, too. And University of Dayton education students will volunteer their time to partner with each child to provide an added level of support

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The librarians plan to confer with parents in advance in order to avoid specific triggers that could upset the children. And as Loftin said, the program will involve “a lot of trial and error” in the beginning as the librarians learn how best to cater to this population.

Dayton Metro Library plans eventually to expand this program to other branch libraries once the two pilot librarians have it working smoothly.

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