I would like to start my post by thanking all of the SNAILS members for the opportunity to attend the November meeting. It was both informative and inspirational. It is absolutely wonderful to see so many libraries and librarians passionate about access for children with special needs. I loved my time in Chicago, and I am keen to establish a similar kind of network as SNAILS in South Australia. Please keep an eye on my blog, and I would love to hear from you, particularly if you are interested in taking part in a survey as part of my research into this area.
The following is a description of the program that we run for children with special needs and their families at our library.
Program outline: Library Lions is a literacy-based, early childhood program (ages birth-5) developed for children with special needs. It is offered weekly - Wednesdays at 11:00am - during school terms. The program involves using Makaton (i.e. keyword) sign language and props / puppets to enable stories, songs, rhymes and actions to be more accessible to the children. The program promotes interaction and involvement with literacy at whatever stage and / or capability of the child. The pace and developmental level of each session is dictated by the children involved. The needs of all children are taken into consideration when developing each session. Specific examples of this include: a child with autism who is comfortable participating when she is provided with a large cushion under which she can lie; another child with vision impairment will participate if he is able to view the book up close before each page is turned.
Parents/carers are provided with photocopied Makaton signing sheets related to the songs and stories of each session. This encourages parents/carers to continue to practice and increase the number of signs that they are familiar with – enabling them to incorporate it into their everyday literacy activities. Siblings of the children with special needs are welcomed and included in the sessions with the aim that they will also feel important. After the half-hour program, families stay for a coffee and chat session to meet and support each other.
Rationale: The need for the program resulted from staff observation and customer comments that the regular programs were not accessible to their children with special needs. In particular, customers commented that the regular early childhood group sessions were too large and too loud for their children. We also identified a lack of literacy based programs for children with special needs within the local area.
Goals: The goals of the program are to:
- Enable children with special needs to access and become involved in literacy based programs within the library
- Assist the parents/carers to access the library and its resources
- Provide a safe and welcoming environment for parents/carers and their children with special needs to attend library programs.
- Encourage parents/carers and their children with special needs to feel welcome at all times within the library.
- Provide opportunities for parents/carers of children with special needs to meet and support each other.
Partnerships: In developing and running the program we have worked in partnership with a number local health services. This has been vital to establishing connections with families, increasing promotion and developing sound programs. The support we were provided by these groups included -
- Provision of a speech pathologist to help develop the program
- Provision of a speech pathologist to attend the first few sessions
- Contacting families of children with special needs in the local area of the program
- Sharing of their signing sheet resources.
Evaluation: The program has been running for just three years. In that time we have had a regular group of between 3-6 families, with a very small dropout rate. The high level of involvement with and interaction from the children is also a good indicator as to the success of the program and its content. Some of the families have become regular borrowers of the library’s resources and have also started to attend other children’s and school holiday programs.