Our local library has a great Children’s Department. There are oodles of books, movies on DVD and Blu-ray, and several computers. We can borrow an iPad during our visits, or a Nook reader. There are several toys available for young children, as well. There is also a little book house where young ones can secret away for a bit to have a little quiet, or to play. The Children’s Department hosts several programs throughout the year, with weekly story times and monthly crafts.
Four years ago I ventured out to the library with my boys to attend a general story time. That did not end well. Tate was unable to sit, even in my lap, for 5 minutes. He was fidgeting a lot, and chewing on several non-food or sensory-friendly items. Another child started to cry. He couldn’t take it. He couldn’t tell me that it was bothering him, either. He started to whine. Then throw things. Then laid on the floor and tried to squeeze Jake to death. It looked horrific to the unknowing eye. He had recently been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, so I knew he was dysregulated…but I was completely clueless as to how to deal with it. I scooped him up, red-faced, apologized profusely to the group, told him he was being naughty (NOT one of my better parenting moments), and we left. Hastily.
Two and a half years ago we tried again. I knew more how to handle meltdowns at that point. I was juggling the three boys…and Cole was just an infant. I sat the older two down, and held Cole in my lap as I tried to juggle Tate’s rocking body. I knew he needed to rock, but we hadn’t even started the story. As the librarian began to read, Tate started using silly words. He laid on the ground. Jake asked me to make him stop. I couldn’t. He was distracting others around us. So, we picked up our stuff, and we left.
In April, as part of Autism Awareness Month, the Children’s Department created a survey for special needs parents. They were asking how they could better serve our children. There were some specific questions, and I answered as best as I could. In the open-ended area, I had to use the backside of the page. First, I asked if they could have a sensory-friendly, or Autism-Friendly story time. I detailed how my son couldn’t handle a non-structured activity where he didn’t know what to do. I noted that he was unable to sit for long periods of time…10 minutes is often too much. I said that I felt like we missed out on some things, because my son can’t tolerate the noise of so many children, or the distractions, either. Second, I asked that they train their staff to be more understanding and accepting of children with differences. There was a particular person who 8 times out of 10 would admonish me and/or my boys for the behavior…and they were doing the best that they could.
A few months later we were in the library on Wednesday, as our routine allows, and I saw a flyer. “Sensory-Friendly Story Time” It was available for children aged 4-8, and was geared towards children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other sensory needs that make traditional story time difficult. That was the wording. Yes!!!!! I couldn’t wait to sign Tate up for the first session….which happened to be on his first soccer game. DRAT! We missed the first two story times. Luckily, we were able to attend the most recent one on Saturday.
We got there bright and early. Our story time began at 9:30. We were the first ones there. I double checked with the Children’s information desk that we were in the right place. We were. Two of the librarians opened the program room doors. We walked in. Tate knew he was “at home”. He relaxed. I could see it in his face…and his little flappy-stompy anxiety dance ceased. He chose a chair–a blue cubby-like chair. Just like the ones in his Early Childhood classrooms. He really wanted the red one, but it was by the therapy dog (yes, I know…a therapy dog!!!), and Reece the therapy dog was freaking Tate out...just a bit.
Suddenly, Tate announced, “I know!”, and he dragged the blue chair over to where the red one was stationed. He turned it to face the front of the room. He then dragged the red one to where he wanted to sit, and sat down. “I did it, Mommy!” (Oh my, yes he did…I had to keep from tearing up…the kid who “has significant issues with motor planning” just pulled a switcheroo with the chairs. Way to go, kiddo!!
The librarians introduced themselves. They went over the visual schedule on the board. It was all laid out…in black and white…for my visual, routine-driven little man. They showed the children the books they’d be reading. They introduced the therapy dog. They started following the visual schedule. They removed a piece of the schedule as they finished the task. Tate and the other two boys in the room were incredibly comfortable. The other boys’ mom and I exchanged a few looks…the “oh my goodness we’ve found our people” looks. We were both incredibly overcome with emotion that the staff at the library had totally gotten this right. Totally.
The schedule, for those who care, was like this:
Meet and Greet
Read a story
Do a Rhyme
Play with scarves
Read a story
Sing a song
The librarians were great. They read the books. (Tate listened to the whole story–even laughing at the humor of the puppy saying the wrong sound (baa, moo, quack)) They interacted with the three boys. They did a rhyme–complete with visual prompts. (Tate participated!) They played with scarves to music. (Tate danced!) They read another book. (Both were dog stories–hence the therapy dog.) They sang a silly song about dogs. They said goodbye. (Tate followed and mimicked the actions of the librarians!!) The librarians then showed the boys the “Free Choice” activities. They could make a mask (complete with step by step visual directions on the wall), read a few books, pet the dog, or play vet with some stuffed animals and vet supplies.
The head of the Children’s Department came up and asked how we found out about the story time. I told her that I had seen the flyer, and that Tate’s teacher had also sent one home. I praised her for the terrific job they did…and how wonderfully the whole program went. She said they work with our district’s special education teachers to write their program plans. It was clear that they had done their homework and had carefully planned this Sensory-Friendly Story Time.
Tate made a doggie mask. He wrote his name in red on one ear. Then he went over and wrapped a stuffed dog’s arm in gauze. Then proceeded to wrap the dog’s entire body in gauze. Then he wanted me to wrap him in gauze, but I declined. He saw an older boy use the stethoscope to listen to the therapy dog’s heartbeat. And he then listened to the therapy dog’s heartbeat. And petted her. And told her she was “so cute”. He was definitely at ease. I encouraged him to say hi to the other boys. He said hi, but that was it. After one more try at the gauze and stuffed puppy, Tate declared that it was time to go find Daddy and Jake and Cole.
We thanked everyone, said goodbye to the other boys, and walked out the door. Tate was able to let me know he was done, and by leaving when we did, he retained his composure. He had fun. He told Hubz that it was a good story time. Hubz and I did a visual “high five”. He did it. Our little man was able to finally participate in story time…a story time designed just for kids like him.