We were back.
The reality that had been consumed by Chronos was restored, and with it, our identities.
It was the Apocatastasis - the rebirth of the universe.
We were finally winning...
But our battle was far from over.
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Every April the nation celebrates National Autism Awareness Month to promote “autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with ASD is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life”1. As teen library staff, we assist teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) whether it’s through reference interactions, programs, and/or volunteer opportunities. If staff has yet to interact with this population, celebrating National Autism Awareness Month is a gateway to connecting with this community. Not only is this an exciting opportunity, we, as teen library staff, are charged with “reach[ing] out to and serve ALL teens in the community no matter what their backgrounds, interests, needs, or abilities, and whether or not they frequent the library space2.
So how exactly do we participate in National Autism Awareness Month? There is a variety of things we can do to spread awareness and invite teens with ASD into the library! Here is a simple idea from The Autism Society3 that all libraries can implement as a starting point:
Put on the Puzzle! The Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon is the most recognized symbol of the autism community in the world. Autism prevalence is now one in every 68 children in America. Show your support for people with autism by wearing the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon – as a pin on your shirt, a magnet on your car, a badge on your blog, or even your Facebook profile picture – and educate folks on the potential of people with autism!
By wearing these ribbons, we can make a statement that will not only show support and solidarity for these teens, but start great conversations with patrons who are not familiar with National Autism Awareness Month. Another great way to promote Autism Awareness is to create book displays, pathfinders, ans/or Libguides featuring characters with ASD and nonfiction titles specifically for teens with ASD. YALSA’s The Hub has a great archive of postings that focus on both fiction and nonfiction titles for teens so definitely take a look at some of those posts. Along with great book displays and a diversified collections, why not get our teen book clubs involved by reading and discussing a book featuring a teen with ASD. Here is a great handout to give to teens to read before the book club in case they have any questions. If possible, work with community partners, or medical experts, to participate in the conversation so they can answer any questions teens may have regarding ASD.
Another great way to bring awareness to ASD is to actually connect with local organizations that provide services to teens with ASD. By creating these partnerships, not only are we bridging a huge gap in services to this group of teens, we are letting our communities know that we are excited to provide specialized or inclusive programs and services for these teens. When communicating with these organizations, find out what these teens would like to see in the library and discuss these ideas with our Teen Advisory Boards (TAB). By proposing to our TAB that the library would like to provide services to teens with Autism, and we would like their help, we are providing them with the chance to give back to their community in yet another meaningful way. If this is something that your library may not be able to do (just yet), try adapting current programming to include teens with ASD with the help of these organizations.
Once example that will guarantee a lot of fun, and to encourage interaction between neurotypical teens and teens with ASD, is to host a series of sensory art or craft based programs where teens can use a variety of mediums. Why sensory? According to the Autism Research Institute:
Children and adults with autism, as well as those with other developmental disabilities, may have a dysfunctional sensory system. Sometimes one or more senses are either over- or under-reactive to stimulation. Such sensory problems may be the underlying reason for such behaviors as rocking, spinning, and hand-flapping. Although the receptors for the senses are located in the peripheral nervous system (which includes everything but the brain and spinal cord), it is believed that the problem stems from neurological dysfunction in the central nervous system–the brain. As described by individuals with autism, sensory integration techniques, such as pressure-touch can facilitate attention and awareness, and reduce overall arousal.
– See more at: https://www.autism.com/
Depending where on the spectrum teens are, some may be super sensitive or under sensitive to tactile objects. Although some teens may enjoy playing with clay, some can express deep displeasure for the texture or smell. In the beginning, teens may not want to touch it all all, but, at some point, they may step step out of their comfort zones and play with it simply because others teens are interacting with the material. If we do these types of activities, try to incorporate a variety of textures (i.e., Playdough vs. Polymer Clay) so teens have options. Whether teens are using clay, paints with different textures and colors, or even building something out of textured materials, teens of all abilities will get to interact with one another, which is incredible to see and will have a profound effect on teens with ASD. In fact, this is a great volunteer opportunity for TAB to lead as they will be the official liasons between the library, teen patrons, and the teens with ASD.
As we start implementing programs and services, don’t forget to share with the world what we are doing! Whether it’s using social media to show what teens have made, or what programs are being held, it’s always a great idea to document our success. For National Autism Awareness month, organizations are using the social media tag of #austismawareness or #lightitupblue to promote National Autism Awareness. As we post away, be sure to include any of these hashtags because we want all of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to know what we are doing and why. Lastly, don’t forget to measure your success. By providing statistics, feedback, reports, we can build momentum to get libraries all over the country to participate, which is not only AWESOME, but conveys to our ASD teen populations that they have a place in the library. If we take a moment to really think about these teens, they are are also stakeholders who have a voice that can influence library services. Not only is it important to help these teens to succeed, it’s also just as important to empower them. Who knows? What started out as a series of art programs could result into transforming our teens rooms into sensory friendly environments. Anything is possible in Libraryland so what are we waiting for?