Skip Navigation
libraries and autism: we're connected

home  watch this video  use these resources  access theses links  expand your knowledge  Strategies that work
BLANK  Autism Welcome Here Grant  Past Grant Winners  Project News  Schedule a Workshop for your Library  Past Workshops  Comments  BLANK

access theses links

email your comments and questions
Programming Strategies that Work

Here are some practical programming ideas that have worked well for us that can be implemented in your library. Of course, not everything will work well for every library, but with some experimentation and perseverance you'll find things that are effective for you. At our workshops we've been brainstorming ideas with other librarians, and we're including them here as well. Please send us your ideas so we can share them with everyone!

button    The Autism Resource Center at Lancaster Public Library, opened in November 2010 with the support of an LSTA grant. It provides a welcoming and comfortable environment for individuals with Autism and for those whose lives are touched by them including families, teachers, and therapeutic support specialists. The center has hundreds of print, audio, and video materials on the subject of Autism for use both in the library and at home. The center also provides computers equipped with Boardmaker software as well as materials for tactile manipulation for socialization and academic purposes.
While not strictly a 'program', this resource center is a invaluable addition to the library and the community. They also have a good example of a web-based social storybook available for download called "Going to the Library" for both preschoolers and teens.

button   Online Learning Archive - Special Needs Programming. Here are two terrific videos to get you started with Tricia Twarogowski (now at the Cuyahoga County (OH) Public Library) and Emily Nanney, Children's Services Manager at South County (NC) Regional Library.
As a result of the partnership between the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County and the Autism Society of North Carolina's Mecklenburg County Chapter, training videos have been produced by PLCMC staff members who have been planning and presenting programming specific to children with special needs and their families since 2008. While the programming is geared for all types of special needs, the primary audience for this type of program is children on the autism spectrum.

button   Programming for Children with Special Needs - Part 1. These excellent tips (detailed in a series of articles by Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski in the ALSC blog) are from the training videos above. They include detailed information on how to present rhythm-and-rhyme storytimes for children on the spectrum. The videos, narrated by Emily Nanney, children's services manager at South County Regional Library, and Ms. Twarogowski, children's services manager at the Matthews Branch, offer hands-on advice on how to carry out special needs programs and the importance of making all children's programs inclusive. The videos also offer practical tips, such as making sure to reserve an extra 30 minutes after storytime so parents can socialize, because, oftentimes, busy schedules packed with doctor's visits and therapy sessions can make it hard to do so with other caregivers like themselves. See Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5

button   Follow-Up to ALSC Blog Series Special Needs Programming, Parts 1-5 Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski updates the excellent series of article referenced above. She says, "What a difference a year makes! After the “Special Needs Programming” five-part blog series, which commenced June 2009, I conducted further research and found inspiration in colleagues around the country who plan and present library programs to children with special needs, primarily children on the autism spectrum. This follow-up entry shares information learned since the original entries were posted and shows how programming adapted as a result for participants at Matthews Branch of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library."

button    Kiera Parrott has a couple of execellent posts in the ALSC Blog about programming for kids on the spectrum. Take a look at Stories on the Spectrum: Adventures in Outreach, Planning, and Programming for Kids with ASD and Storytimes for Autistic Children

button   Next Chapter Book Club This tremendously rewarding program has been a big success at the Scotch Plains library. Unlike other book clubs, the Next Chapter Book Club (NCBC) provides adolescents and adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to read and learn to read, talk about books, and make friends in a fun, community setting. The Scotch Plains group meets weekly at the local Panera's. For more information and to get your library involved check out their website at:

button    Selecting Books for Special Needs Storytimes - another great post with some practical suggestions from the ALSC blogger by Renee Grassi

button    Here's an update from Linda Feaster on the Circle of Friends initiative mentioned below. She reports that their Manchester (NJ) and Brick (NJ) Branches have both implemented the Fun With Friends programs, but in a different manner than their Circle of Friends program. Theirs is not run as a series, because they found that that format doesn't work for their families. She reiterates how very proud she is of her library system for the support they have been able to give the autism community through the opportunities presented to them by Professor Klein and the families in the Circle of Friends.

Manchester Branch:
At Manchester, I run Fun with Friends monthly on a Saturday, for ages 5-8. We have had very positive feedback from parents who have made great connections with other parents through the program. Fun with Friends runs true to its name as parents have been able to set up play dates with other kids from the program, which is unprecedented for them! Fun with Friends follows the outline Professor Klein set out for Circle of Friends with a few modifications that I made to adapt to a library-run situation. We will also begin running a music program designed specifically for children with autism at multiple branches beginning in early winter 2012.

Brick Branch:
Joining the Long Beach Island Branch's effort, the Brick Branch of the Ocean County Library has held two 4-week Fun with Friends sessions so far. Following the manual developed by the team led by Kathleen Klein, an assistant professor from Richard Stockton College, our first sessions were conducted by Professor Klein's graduate students; and the second sessions were led by Wendy Froio, an Occupational Therapist who works for Brick school district. Children with autism and their parents enjoyed the structured play with hands-on cooperative experiences of parachute, scarves, stretchy tubes, rubber ducks, crafts and etc. The parents especially appreciated the opportunity for their children to have a neutral and safe environment to practice and improve their social skills. Together with our ongoing monthly Special Needs Storytime, Brick Branch has been serving children with special needs, including autism, for many years. Throughout the years, we have built great rapport with Brick SEPTA (Special Education PTA - and POAC (Parent of Autistic Children - With Ocean County Library System's support, Brick Branch will keep offering services to better serve our special needs community.

button   Linda Feaster, the Branch Manager of the Long Beach Island Branch of the Ocean County (NJ) Library let us know that her "library system is very committed to serving all members of the community, and we have a high awareness of diversity and serving the differently-abled (I like that term!)".

She shared this collaborative success story with us: "At the Long Beach Island Branch of the Ocean County Library, we host The Circle of Friends, who are a group of children with autism and their families, who meet here during the school year on Saturdays with two students from the Richard Stockton College graduate program of Occupational Therapy. The students are under the guidance of Kathleen Klein, an assistant professor there who is the originator/creator of this program, and they are developing lesson plans that are available to anyone via the Internet for helping children with autism develop social skills. They have been working with these children since they were in pre-school. These lessons have allowed other branches of OCL to hold similar types of programs for children with autism."
She reports that the group continues to meet at the library in the same fashion as described in the manual, but the children are getting older and now in school and are acting as the pilot group for developing the lessons as the children age. Linda shared the link below for the manual with the lesson plans and a description of the program (which is called, Fun with Friends: A Social Skill Development Program for Preschoolers Diagnosed with Autism) and its beginnings. The link is:

button   We were thrilled to get this email recently from Renee Grassi, Youth Services Librarian at the Deerfield (IL) PL. Renee was awarded an Early Childhood Reading Grant from the Target Foundation which she used to create a series of storytimes for children with special needs, particularly those with autism, called "Read to Rover". It's a program that collaborates with a local volunteer not-for-profit public charity that provides animal assisted therapy. Renee has now been leading special needs programming at her library for the past year, and has received wonderful support and feedback from parents of children with special needs in her community. She sent along this description of the "Read to Rover" program to share with the library community:

"Read to Rover": Children ages 8 and up are invited to this storytime program for an afternoon of 'doggy tales' with trained therapy dogs and their handlers. These gentle dogs are the perfect companion for children with autism as they listen to their favorite dog-themed stories and sing songs. After storytime, consider organizing the room into three exploration stations where children can do an activity while they interact with each of the dogs. Some example exploration stations include "Bailey Buckets," where children practice tossing bean bags into Bailey's water bowl or "Kubla's Command Corner," where children learn how to give Kubla a command. If the dog understands sign language, this corner can be easily adapted for children who use ASL. You could also use assistive technology with pre-programmed commands for those children with autism who are non-verbal.

button    Reading to dogs is everywhere! Paws to Read is a similar concept that many libraries are incorporating around the country. Here's an example from Flagstaff, AZ, and another called Paws for People from the Scotch Plains Public Library and the Fanwood Memorial Library in NJ. It shouldn't be hard to find a contact for therapy dogs to read to in your area.

button    Renee also has a terrific recent post (4/2/11) in the ALSC blog called the ABCs of Inclusive Youth Programming with some great tips and insights.

button    Sensory Friendly Flims is a great concept and an easy, inclusive program to present at your library. The idea is simply that a Sensory Friendly Film provides a special opportunity for families to enjoy their favorite films in a safe and accepting environment. Just turn the lights up, the sound down, encourage families to bring in their own gluten-free, casein-free snacks and allow audience members to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing!
On a commercial level, AMC Theaters has partnered with the Autism Society to bring Sensory Friendly Films to families affected by autism on a monthly basis in select communities around the country.

button   SPARK Reading Club Kudos to Richard Bryce, Children's Librarian at the Denville (NJ) Public Library for initiating this terrific summer reading program. He said, "We held the kickoff after regular hours so that we would be able to control the noise and lights to make it more enjoyable for them. I recently attended an autism workshop where I learned that sometimes children with special needs may be extra sensitive to bright lights or loud noises." This article, "SPARK Reading Club ignites interest for special-needs kids" on describes the entire program and wonderful kick-off event.

button   Group SPIRIT! This family-centered autism support group outgrew their original meeting space in someone's home and now meets at the library. The benefits to both the group, which has grown from just a few families to over 50, and the library are many. The library provides the space, and the group takes care of their own programming (special needs legal advocates, family entertainment and more), refreshments and even baby-sitting. They solicit interns from the Child Development program at a local communtiy college and while the parents get some time to themselves the students get hands on experience with the kids. Their FLYER states that, "as parents, guardians and caregivers, our task is to protect and provide for our children. But as parents of children with autism, we have unique and challenging demands placed upon us and can always use more support and understanding." Group Spirit's meetings and materials are funded by the not-for-profit group Autism Family Times (see below).

button   After Hours Programming - A librarian at a workshop in MA told us that they've been successful with programming specifically for special needs kids and their families by opening the library at night just for that event. It allows for a certain comfort level and it can be a great way for families to interact with each other. Adrienne Robertiello (one of our partners in the training film) used the same approach at a local Toys R Us. They agreed to open one evening especially for families in the autism community. There was a large crowd and experts were on hand from local agencies to help guide family members to appropriate toys. The kids and their families had a great time and, needless to say, Toys R Us was happy too.

button   Digital Cameras - Another engaging programming suggestion from MA was to hand out digital cameras and then create some kind of display of the work they do, whether online or hard-copy in the library. This would appeal to a wide range of ages and speaks to the appeal of photographic images to those on the spectrum.

button   This is My Library book - This downloadable book (available on our Resources page) was originally meant to be used as a social story to help introduce kids to your library. While it works quite effectively for that purpose we have found many other uses for it. Since it is so easily customized, you could use it to 'teach' the rules for storytimes, or the expected behaviors in the Children's area, or even in the adult or young adult department to gently deliver a set of rules or policies.

button   Family Programming Rather than aiming at and limiting to a certain age group, try programs that appeal to the whole family. As an example, the Scotch Plains library used this approach recently with their Lincoln Log-a-Thon that recreated Lincoln's rural boyhood village of Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana entirely in Lincoln Logs! Community members were invited to build the log cabins, farms, general store, meeting house, school, and mills that made up the small rural community in Lincoln's time. Families with children in first grade through high school participated and this program attracted families and individuals of all ages and abilities and allowed for some wonderful interaction in a library setting

button   Autism Family Times This non-profit group strives to provide customized, therapeutic, educational and recreational programs for children on the spectrum and their immediate family members and concentrate on strengthening the family unit by offering support programs and respite to caregivers and siblings. They offer horseback riding, yoga, bike riding, swimming with dolphins, and more. Their 'Learn Through Travel Program' is unique! With families as participants, they offer the opportunity to connect with animals in a safe, therapeutic, and educational environment. This idea of family based tours (or programs or adventures) could be adapted and utlized by a library on a smaller, local approach. See more about them at: Autism Family times with Brianna

|| Home || Watch this video || Use these resources || Access these links || Expand your knowledge || Strategies that work ||
|| Autism Welcome Here Grant || Past Grant Winners || Project News || Schedule a Workshop for your Library || Past Workshops || Comments and Feedback || E-mail your comments and questions ||

All content is copyright Ⓒ 2008 - 2020 by Libraries & Autism: We're Connected.
Free non-commercial use of any of these materials is permitted and encouraged to support autism awareness and inclusion.
Please acknowledge this project and link back to our site.