IMLS Programs Help Families Dealing with Autism

By Michele Farrell, IMLS Senior Program Officer

autism ribbonDid you know that boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls?  It’s National Autism Awareness Month and here are some ways libraries and museums are using federal funds from IMLS to develop resources to serve families affected by autism and to help people learn more about this increasingly prevalent condition.

At the Upper-Hudson Library System in Albany, NY, librarians attended a workshop “Libraries and  Autism: We’re Connected” and were given a checklist to assess their collections and evaluate their spaces and policies in order to develop programs. New Jersey librarians Dan Weiss and Meg Kolya of the Scotch Plains Public Library and the Fanwood Memorial Library were the presenters.  They produced a customer service training video and developed a website and support materials primarily to help library staff  serve individuals with autism and their families more effectively.  I think you’ll find this is a great resource.

Joyce Sands, the project director at the Lancaster Public Library in Pennsylvania, created an Autism Resource Center with over 800 books, CDs, DVDs, computer software, games, and manipulative materials. This center allows visitors to work, play games, and preview items from the collection.  The library created it as a direct response to community requests.  They even have a laptop computer with Boardmaker software, which allows families to create charts and calendars that are helpful to individuals with autism.

Four certified teachers and the librarian at Oakstone Academy in Westerville, OH, took a different approach.  Oakstone Academy is specifically designed for people with autism.  The educators purchased iPads and studied the use of this technology with students with autism.  Amy Price, the project director, reported that students showed a statistically significant increase in reading comprehension when using iPad interactive eBooks over traditional text.  Middle school students and students over 18 showed an average of 21 percent increase in comprehension, while high school students showed an average of 25 percent increase.

With funding from our National Leadership Grant program, the Queens Museum of Art, in partnership with the Queens Library and Quality Services for the Autistic Community, is developing and  a model community-based art therapy program for Spanish- speaking families of children with autism spectrum disorders.

As a program officer in the State Grant Program, I read about many projects and it’s always interesting to see the various ways librarians meet community needs.

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