Public libraries are public institutions and should be available to anyone. However, in reality – it is not always the case. Parents that have children with autism spectrum disorder often avoid public places because in most cases those places are not suitable for their children. But public libraries in Lithuania say “Library for everyone”, presenting a unique project implemented throughout Lithuania.
Experiences are not always pleasant
Ingrida, who has a son with an autism spectrum disorder says: “It’s not easy – you have to adapt to the environment, and communicate the way you do with anyone, but don’t expect a “normal” response”. She stresses the importance of teaching the basic rules, to show what behaviors are acceptable. For example, when you take a book from a shelf in a library afterwards you have to put it back on the shelf. You have to teach them what to do.
She mentions that “Saying to such a child to ‘sit quietly’ or ‘stay calm’ is the same as telling a blind person to ‘see’ or telling a person who can’t walk to get up and go. It doesn’t work like that”. Not only do people with autism spectrum disorder need to learn to live in the society, society also needs to learn to accept and understand this socially sensitive group.
Jacob’s mother Živilė says that people with autism spectrum disorder are greatly aided by visual information which indicates, for example, where books are placed, where to go, and finally where the toilet is. “These days, we talk a lot about integration but it is sometimes difficult for the family to go out in public. We are afraid because we do not know how the child will behave in the library and how others will react”.
Creating a safe environment for all individuals
Since November, the doors of Lithuanian public libraries have been decorated with a colorful logo “Library for everyone”. This is a sign that the library is becoming an even more open and friendly place for all individuals, despite their differences and diversity.
Many individuals with an autism spectrum disorder have an easier time processing information with visual cues. Using adapted text and pictures is key to familiarizing themselves with unknown environments and situations.
As of 2020 Lithuanian public libraries have social stories and posters that help visitors with autism spectrum disorder prepare for a visit to the library. The social stories that visitors will find on the library websites allow them to get acquainted with the library spaces, rules, and staff.
To help manage anxiety, calm down, and relax a special toolkit has been prepared for each of the public libraries. It consists of sensory-tent, tactile, audio, and visual aids. In addition, training for library staff on how to behave and help autistic children in the library have also been organized.
An example for all public institutions
In Lithuania, similarly to the rest of the world, the number of autism cases is increasing. The spectrum of autism is very wide, however, the most common problem areas are social interactions, sensory sensitivity, linguistic and non-linguistic communication. Still, research indicates that individuals with autism spectrum disorder identify the library as a great place to relax, educate, and spend quality time. In a recent survey, about 90 percent of families with autistic children said that they would visit libraries more often if they were more adapted to their needs.
The project “Implementation of a network of libraries friendly to people with autism spectrum and other language, communication and behavioral disorders” was financed by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania.
If you would like to know more, contact:
Justina Grigienė, communication manager of project “Implementation of a network of librariesfriendly to people with autism spectrum and other language, communication and behavioral disorders”