AUTISM FRIENDLY LIBRARY: THE (RE)ACTIVE ELEMENT TO SPECIAL NEEDS INCLUSION
Accessibility, social inclusion and diversification are a few key functions of a public library, however can be understood and carried out differently ranging from library to library, country to country. Nevertheless, it is an agenda of any public intuition, to make its services available to the public regardless of gender, age, socio-economic status, physical or/and mental needs. The question here is how far should a public library go to increase to the life quality of individuals with special needs, should we go the extra mile? How long is this ‘mile’? A library that is autism (ASD) friendly in one country can mean that it is adapted from the infrastructure standpoint to individuals with autism, however elsewhere that can mean that the library and a librarian has an active role in the community of ASD parents.
We at Šiauliai County Povilas Višinskis Public Library say – both. We implement both infrastructure changes and act as agents for community engagement, especially when it comes to special needs inclusion and ASD. We want to inspire other libraries by example that it is not only about the adaptation of space for a library, but also a (re)active role in the community that counts.
In order to become truly autism friendly we follow the three fundamental ideas of our role:
Passive adaptation of infrastructure according to the needs of ASD individuals. These include providing libraries with competence in providing library services to ASD individuals, social stories, sensory maps, etc.
Active role in the community catering the needs of ASD individuals and their caregivers. So far we have established a sensory-reading service for children with ASD, hold trainings for parents.
Raising awareness of ASD on the local, regional and national levels. Providing the information and raising the qualification of library staff so that they could themselves become change agents in awareness raising.