Serving Autistic Youth in Libraries


Research Process:

Joni Jeffries is a media assistant in an elementary library and a graduate student at IUPUI. She has a special interest in rural public libraries and outreach services.

Copyright Joni Jeffries 2021


1001 Great Ideas


Notbohm, E. & Zysk, V. (2010) 1001 great ideas for teaching & raising children with autism 

     or Asperger’s (2nd Edition). Future Horizons.

This book is full of easy, use-it-today advice for teachers and parents that a creative librarian can easily adapt to the library. The book succinctly explains autistic and Asperger’s behaviors, what they mean, and how to handle a child with ASD in a small-group setting. 


Ellen Notbohm is a popular author among parents and teachers of children with autism including the award-winning Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew. Veronica Zysk is the author and editor of Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine and was previously the Executive Director of the Autism Society of America. This updated edition includes 600 additional ideas from the original 2004 edition. 


While the book has many activities and insights that don’t directly apply to libraries and are geared more toward parents, the wealth of ideas and examples would make this book a great additional tool for designing a media center curriculum and adding sensory elements to the public library storytime.

Including Families of Children with Special Needs


Deerr, K., Feinberg, S., Jordan, B., & Langa, M (2013). Including families of children with 

     special needs: A how-to-do-it manual for libraries (Rev. ed.). ALA Neal-Schuman

This book covers a wide range of topics regarding library outreach programs for children with special needs. The book is focused on educating the reader about the daily challenges children with special needs encounter in public spaces. The library can serve as a model of moving beyond ramps and braille signage into truly understanding inclusivity and preparing the library for all patrons.


This revised edition is by Carrie Banks, director of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Inclusive Services since 1997. The original authors include award-winning writers, medical professionals, youth services librarians, and educators, each working within the field of ASD.


This book is an excellent resource for a library director and belongs on the shelf of every youth services librarian. A wide range of programming concerns are covered including legality, preparing and training staff, building codes, and general philosophy of inclusive services. While ASD is not the focus of the book, it is directly addressed and covered as part of a broader inclusion of sensory disorders.



Dimensions Training Video

10 minutes

Dimensions. (2016). Dimensions autism friendly libraries training video for library staff [Video]. 


In this 10-minute training video, librarians can see exactly what a library looks like when actively engaging patrons with autism. The video also has interviews with patrons who are autistic alongside their parents. ASD patrons are shown interacting with different locations and activities in a library. The main goal of this video is to encourage libraries to adopt practices such as visual aids, appropriate lighting, and sensory activities for all ages.


This video is created in partnership between Dimensions, a non-profit support provider for people with autism, and the UK-based National Association of Senior Children’s and Education Libraries. Dimensions has been advocating for people with autism for over 40 years. ASEL is a national organization whose stated aim is that “every child and young person visiting a public library should be inspired by an exciting environment which makes reading for pleasure irresistible.” Their collaboration results in a well-funded and professional video that is a joy to watch.


This training will be very helpful for librarians with limited interactions with people with autism. The video shows common behaviors of people with autism such as flapping arms and facial ticks. The insights of parents will be helpful to library directors and media specialists in understanding how libraries sometimes fall short in their support of special needs communities.

Dimensions Training Video

10 minutes

Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected. [Dan Weiss]. (2014). Libraries and autism: We’re  

     connected. [Video]. Youtube.

This training video developed by the organization Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected, is designed to provide library staff with customer-service tips for interactions with patrons with ASD. The training is meant as an introduction to ASD and offers universal strategies for welcoming these patrons to the library.


The Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected was created in 2008 by library director Dan Weiss and Meg Kolaya, both of New Jersey. Together they created a website (, this training video, and a nation-wide speaking tour. In 2009, Kolaya, who passed away in 2016, was presented with a national award by the American Library Association for this project. 


This training video is an excellent introduction to ASD for all school and public library staff. The video includes interviews with children with autism, shows characteristic behaviors, and teaches appropriate responses. The training also includes how to handle reference interviews, types of communication a librarian may encounter, and behaviors to ignore.



Autism, Literacy, and Libraries

Quick Read

Akin, L. & MacKinney, D. (Summer/Fall 2004). Autism, literacy, and libraries: The 3 Rs = 

     routine, repetition, and redundancy. Children and Libraries

In this article from the journal Children and Libraries, Akin and MacKinney examine how libraries (both public and school) can best serve children with autism or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) by creating a routine and visual cues to help understand the flow of storytime. The 7-page article begins with a brief overview of ASD to help librarians understand how and why children with ASD process and understand their environment. The main focus is how to create a welcoming and appropriate 30-minute storytime visit. The authors focus on the 3 Rs: routine, repetition, and redundancy, encouraging all librarians to maintain a well-ordered experience from the moment children enter the library until the moment they depart. The article also includes an extensive reference list.


Lynn Akin is an assistant professor at the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University. She has several other publications related to children with learning disabilities. Donna MacKinney is a librarian at the Plano Independent Schools System and a former special education teacher. Akin’s experience in research and surveys paired with MacKinney’s real-world experience make them an excellent team to address this topic.


This article will be especially helpful with planning a daily library routine for elementary children. The article is written directly to librarians, specifically those with no formal training in working with special needs children. Most helpful may be the detailed guidance on teaching with visual cues, short videos, and five-minute stories.

All Kinds of Flowers Grow Here


Banks, C. (2004). All kinds of flowers grow here: The child’s place for children with special 

     needs at Brooklyn Public Library. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for    

     Library Service to Children 2(1). p. 5-10.

This article describes the services provided by the Brooklyn Public Library’s Child Place for Children with Special Needs.  The Child’s Place opened in 1987 as a public space attached to the library serving children who have developmental, physical, sensory, emotional, and/or multiple disabilities” (p.5). The article is dated, but the methods used to develop the program (Multiple Intelligence Theory and Universal Design) are still in use today and the success of the program over the last seventeen years make it a great model for all libraries. 


Carrie Scott Banks, the author, may be the definitive voice on library inclusivity programming for children. She is the author of Including Children of Families with Special Needs: A How-to-do-it Manual for Librarians (2017). The American Library Association Store states she “has been in charge of Brooklyn Public Library’s Inclusive Services since 1997 and taught Including Youth with Disabilities at Pratt Institute from 2013 to 2015. In 2012 she was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker. Active in ASGCLA and ALSC since 2000, she was the 2020 President of ASGCLA.”


This article serves as a good introductory to what is possible in library inclusivity programs. While not all library directors and media specialists will have the resources or community support to run such a far-reaching program as The Child’s Place, there are many ways to pick-and-choose from their example. This article would make an interesting group read for library staff to discuss and brainstorm new initiatives for their library.