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Friday Memorial Library works to become autism-friendly facility

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Georgia Jones believes a library should be a safe, welcoming place for everyone - including those with autism. That's why when she heard about a grant that allowed librarians to gain autism spectrum disorder training, she jumped at the chance.

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The federally funded grant allows librarians to attend workshops to learn about ways to cater to young children on the spectrum, said Jones, the children's librarian at Friday Memorial Library in New Richmond.

"I was also selected to go to Green Bay for the state autism conference," she said. "I spent three days immersed in the life of a family with a child with autism, attended classes with these families, and talked and listened and interacted with these families and children at this conference."

Jones said that while she knew a little about autism, it wasn't until the conference that she really understood what it was like.

"It was eye-opening for me to see and hear how difficult it can be to participate in what the rest of us take for granted as community activities," she said. "People are reluctant to bring their kids in for fear they'll be disruptive."

Jones said after the training and conference, the library's staff set a goal of making New Richmond's library a welcoming space for everyone - with or without autism spectrum disorder.

Sensory storytime began in October. The storytime is geared specifically toward young children on the spectrum and focuses on consistency, slower speaking and transition time.

"They're not unlike our regular storytime, but our hope is that kids will begin to feel comfortable, feel safe and start understanding what to expect and that their families will feel less reluctant to visit the library with their children," she said.

Storytimes, which are presented along with Fidgets (sensory toys designed to keep children's hands busy) and weighted blankets, which are designed to help the kids feel grounded, are scheduled for 10 a.m. on Nov. 3, Nov. 17, Dec. 1 and Dec. 8. In 2013 the storytimes will likely continue once per month, Jones said.

"I'm really, really pleased, proud and excited that libraries across the country have opened their eyes and doors to this," she said. "Raising awareness of what people with autism face and what families with children with autism face - just to function and be accepted by society..."

Along with the training, the grant also allowed the library to purchase books and DVDs related to the disorder. Boardmaker software, a program with templates that allows users to create symbol-adapted books, flash cards, schedules, ect., is also available to the public.

Jones said that while young children with autism spectrum disorder are the focus at this point, next year the group will be applying for a grant to help train staff members who work with teenagers and adults with the disorder.

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Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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