There are three things that a good children's librarian should never go without when planning a story time to include Autistic children. One, a checklist of what will happen during the program. This can either be printed or on a board where children can see it. What can this checklist do? It helps the child know that things are moving as planned and it helps keep track of time. This not only helps the child but the librarian as well. It's a great reminder that activities should not last longer than three minutes. (Unless of course, the children are having so much fun that another round of "If you're happy and you know it" is needed before the children are ready to move on.)
The second thing to never go without is a sensory bowl. Set up this bowl in a place that is away from the librarian but in easy view of the children. In the bowl place things like a toy, stress reliever balls, or toy cars. During the program if a child feels that he or she needs to move during the story, allow them to go up to a bowl to pick out an object such as a stress ball that they can take back to their seats. This allows them to fidget a little but still be able to pay attention to the story. It also calms them so that they are able to still be part of the program.
Third and most important of all. A safe place to go to when things get a little too much to handle for them. It doesn't happen often but when a child has a meltdown there needs to be a place with the child and caregiver can go to ease the tensions and "refocus" the child's attention on the program. This simply means setting up an area a little away from the rest of the children that gives privacy, protection and play for the autistic child. One of the best ways of doing this is by draping a blanket over two chairs, as if to make a quick fort, and place small toy or crayons and coloring books that can help the child calm down. When the child is ready to rejoin the group, he or she can without disturbing the rest of the children's attention.
Every child really does fit into story time at the library. The children librarian just has to do a little extra planning to make it happen. This by the way, can be done at schools or home too. Librarians aren't the only ones who can read to a child. Everyone should take advantage of this opportunity. Life is too short not to share a book. That sounds like another Facebook message to share! In the meantime to find out more about Autism, go to AutismSpeaks.org.