Sensory Storytime supports our neurodiverse community

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Smiling adult and child reading a kids' book together.
My kids are on the autism spectrum, and the pandemic meant they were completely out of their regular therapies for a long time. The Sensory Storytime was a lifeline during those times, and continues to be. They practice turn-taking, and the activities are super fun and engaging!
says Carmem, a Storytime parent.

For families looking for a welcoming space for children on the autism spectrum or those that would like a more adaptive storytime experience, Sensory Storytime is an inclusive and interactive program.

Sensory Storytime is offered weekly at two library locations as well as online to support neurodiverse families. Neurodiverse families include those with children who are diagnosed with autism, those with expressive language disorders, those who are developmentally or intellectually disabled, and more. This sensory storytime strives to be inclusive in a range of ways of receiving and expressing communication. Children get a chance to have fun and feel supported at a library event with a predictable structure.

Children with sensory processing differences may have a tough time coming to the library due to sounds, lighting or other stimuli. The way that each child reacts to new spaces and interactions can be completely different, and there is not a one size fits all approach.

“We have really valued all of the virtual options for learning that allow my child to be in her own space, but also be exposed to other children… activities as simple as finger drawing in salt in a tray help me (as a parent) think of simple, creative, engaging activities to keep us all busy,” says Taylor, another Storytime parent.

“When Covid pushed storytimes online, we had the pleasant surprise that our reach to this community grew. Some families have been with us since the pandemic started,” says Kri Schlafer, bilingual library assistant.

During each session of Sensory Storytime the librarians Karen and Katie show the children a visual schedule. They refer to the schedule throughout the storytime to help participants track what's happening in storytime, and what they will be doing next. As part of the schedule, they take time to say hello, sing, stretch and move, and read a couple of stories together. The storytime ends with a sensory activity, a rhyme, and saying goodbye.

For families participating in the online storytime, the library provides the program supplies not commonly found at home. Families can request to pick activity kits up at their local library branch or that kits be mailed directly to their homes.

“Every week is full of songs, stories and an activity based on that week’s theme. It is all age group appropriate, but also manages to be inclusive for children with different needs and abilities. Finding activities that my son (with expressive language disorder) can participate in has been daunting, but this has been the perfect fit for us,” says Grace, a Storytime parent.

Sensory Storytime is one of several resources assisting with accessibility needs. Every library is equipped with a Sensory Accommodation Kit for children. These kits provide tools to help with background noises and other distractions. Kits can include a wiggle cushion, fidgets, noise-muffling headphones, and other items. 

For more  sensory learning experiences, families can find interactive learning and play structures in the children’s section of several libraries.

The library is meant to be a community space for all to feel welcome. Through the Library Capital Bond project, library spaces will be updated to reflect the needs of the community. There will be changes to better accommodate neurodiverse people, like the sensory room being added to the updated Midland library. 

If you want to enjoy storytime, but can’t make it to the library or the live virtual storytime, take a look at the library’s Sensory Storytime videos. Welcome to the library!