“Please be friendly and non judgemental. Don’t be shocked if I’m noisy and unpredictable. Smile, and please be nice to my mum, going out can be stressful for us all!”
“This is the way I am and sometimes I find it difficult not to talk to myself in the library so please be patient with me. Don’t keep staring at me. Please be kind to me.”
“Sometimes I can be noisy but I don’t like noise. Please don’t shush me or ask me to leave. These things hurt my feelings and can make me noisier. Be patient. Maybe even provide a small sensory room with soundproofing so I can calm down safely without causing problems with noise in your quiet library.”
These are among the comments made by people with autism as part of research that has led to a new campaign, launched today, for a network of autism-friendly libraries.
As I explain in a piece for the Guardian, a survey of 460 people with autism and their families by social care provider Dimensions suggests that 90% of people with autism would use their library more if adjustments were made.
Responding to concerns, Dimensions and the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians (ASCEL) are collaborating to develop a network of autism-friendly libraries. The aim of the initiative – which is launching at the annual seminar of the Society of Chief Librarians – is to turn England’s 3,000 or so public libraries into more welcoming venues for people who have autism.
The drive, backed by £7,000 from the Arts Council, includes free resources for staff such as training videos, fact sheets, posters and social stories (short, informative descriptions of situations, so people know what to expect when they visit). The work in libraries builds on the model already developed by Dimensions with cinemas,
Being judged, being stared at or told to be quiet are among the main reasons people with autism and their families avoid going to their local library. “Libraries are quiet places so my son could make a noise and I would know others weren’t judging me as a parent,” as one parent told researchers developing the campaign.
In the current funding climate, with cutbacks to services and a downturn in borrowing, it makes financial sense to cater to more people, as well as creating a wider social benefit and encouraging inclusion and equality.
Libraries should be open to all sections of our communities, or as one person with autism explained about the experience of visiting the library: “Don’t tell me to shh! Or look at me like I am a criminal”.