The Winter Park Public Library (WPPL) launches Sensory Storytime for special needs children aged 2 to 7 especially designed for those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disabilities to help increase their literacy and improve communications skills. The 45-minute Storytime also gives parents a chance to meet others with similar children and is currently scheduled the last week of each month on Mondays at 4:00pm and Thursdays at 11:30am.
“We found that many parents with autistic children are not using the library as much because they are afraid their children may be disrupting and won’t be welcome,” said Shanna Kuster, children’s librarian. “These families can experience real isolation, so we wanted to reach out to them by offering a safe environment for their special children to learn to love books.”
According to a March 2016 American Libraries Association article, children on the autism spectrum process information in a different part of the brain than a typical child and they often struggle with some sort of sensory issue as well. Sensory Storytime was designed to involve the senses in a more visual and tactile way allowing these kids a better chance to connect to the story being presented by the librarian. Bubbles, scarves, rhythm instruments, bean bags and bells are used as tools to engage and focus the children as the story unfolds. Unlike in a regular Storytime, these children can move around and are not expected to be visually focused on the book during the story. Consistency is also important for autistic children, so librarians may use the same signal as a song to alert it’s the beginning or the end of the class.
“Participating in a program looks totally different for kids with autism and I never expect them to just sit still, listen while I read and turn pages,” said Kuster. “I always have some way to get them involved in the story experience and keep it interactive.”
Sensory Storytime is offered as part of a comprehensive and full calendar of children’s classes at the WPPL and special needs children are not limited to join only Sensory Storytime which can be attended by any child as well. Although registration is not required to attend Storytime, most classes at WPPL require enrollment which can be done by visiting the calendar section of wppl.org or by calling (321) 623-3300.