COLUMN: Being yourself at the Library

Anne DeGrace is a columnist for the Star. - File photo
Anne DeGrace is a columnist for the Star.
— image credit: File photo

When author and activist Temple Grandin was a toddler, doctors told her mother she should be institutionalized due to her autism. Her mother had other ideas. Grandin grew up to earn a PhD, become an advocate for animal rights, a champion for people with autism, and earn celebrity status as an award-winning author (we have several of her books in the library).

It began with a mom who just wanted her child to be allowed to be herself.

If we arm our kids with the courage to be just that, we increase their chances in a world that is not always prepared to let them be themselves. Yet for some kids, being yourself can be a profoundly uncomfortable thing. The Library aims to change that.

According to Autism Speaks Canada, one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a statistic that has increased by more than 100 per cent in the past decade. Autism is now the fastest growing and most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in the country.

People with autism often have difficulties with social interaction and with verbal and non-verbal communication, or with motor co-ordination. Some may have intellectual difficulties while others may excel in music or math.

Enter Sensory Storytime, a special once-a-month Saturday program for kids on the autism spectrum and their neuro-typical peers so it’s inclusive of everyone. The idea is that not only will a safe, fun, specially designed storytime help autistic kids be themselves, it’ll help non-autistic kids learn to celebrate differences and get along with all kinds of people.

Program co-ordinator Melodie Rae Storey set out to research the ways in which library storytimes can speak to the needs of kids on the autism spectrum and be fun for everyone. “There are supports out there, but in a small community it can be hard to find something that’s free, fun, and brings people together,” she says.

She created props and games that calm kids and alleviate anxiety; they are tactile, they engage young minds, and they allow kids control over the experience, which helps build confidence. There’s a bean bag game, a sensory weather station, tactile balance beam, visual explorers, and sensory mats among others.

“These kids may not be able to sit ‘criss-cross applesauce’ for 30 minutes, or they might find sitting in a group difficult,” says Melodie Rae, who brings her own experience to the program: an autistic friend she’s had since childhood has taught her a great deal, she says. “Libraries are about serving all parts of the community, including the differently abled. We want to provide a safe and welcoming place for kids to be themselves, have fun and learn about books.”

Melodie Rae also runs a Reading Buddies program, in which primary school kids are matched with high school volunteers to practise reading skills through books and word games. “I’ve been so impressed with our volunteers from LVR,” she says. “They adapt the sessions to the particular kid’s interests. One parent told me that they have noticed a marked difference on their child’s report card.”

There are several teens trained and ready to be matched up. To register for Sensory Storytime or the Reading Buddies program just call Melodie Rae at 505-5683 or email mstorey@nelson.ca.

Not all kids will be like Temple Grandin, but every kid can be themselves and see where that takes them. Says Grandin: “Look at what people can do, not what they can’t.” Those are good words to live by for every one of us.

Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week.

For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca.


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