If I were to tell you this statistic - it affects 1 out of every 110 children - would you know what I am talking about? The answer is autism. Current research indicates that 1 out of every 110 children is being diagnosed as being somewhere on the autism spectrum. If you are a boy, that statistic is even higher: 1 out of 60. As these children grow up and enter into middle school and high school, their needs, like all teenagers, can be much more complex and aggravated by hormones. The middle and high school years are very social times and marked by extreme peer pressure, which is a challenge for teens on the spectrum. Thankfully, there are a lot of books out there on the market to help teens, educators and their families navigate the challenge of being a teen on the spectrum. Keep reading for your chance to win 3 autism titles to add to your library collection.
One such book is The Aspie Teen's Survival Guide by J. D. Kraus (published by Future Horizons). Jeff Kraus knows what it is like to be a teen with Asperger's Syndrome because he was one. Now an adult, Jeff took the time to write this book and share his knowledge and experience to help other teens with Asperger's. The Survival Guide starts with a basic definition of Asperger's and then goes on to address specific issues such as heightened senses, stress, driving, bullying, socializing and dating. I appreciated Kraus sharing his difficulties in communication and the story examples he gives that highlight the lack of affect that is often associated with the spectrum; it helps builds understanding.
I recently had the opportunity to have a Q&A with author J. D. Kraus and ask him some questions that could help those of us working in libraries better understand how we can reach out to and meet the needs of teens on the autism spectrum. Mr. Kraus was kind and gracious, but he was also quite literal which is a trait common to those with Asperger's. I appreciated his insight and valued the opportunity to pick his brains. In the end, Mr. Kraus spoke more to the school experience, but the information translates to the public library experience as well.
Libraries typically do various programs to get teens into the library. They can be gathering together to play video games, crafts, etc. Their goal is to bring groups of teens together in social environments. What would this programming need to look like?
To answer your question, I think it's a great idea for libraries to put together video games and craft oriented activities in a school environment to bring students together. This was unavailable at the schools I went to--I was pretty much a loner. You have to be careful on what kind of games you bring to the school environment, for instance, first person shooter games like Halo: Combat Evolved is inappropriate (that's an at home thing). I recommend games that require co-op modes, in which the game requires multiple people to fulfill, such as Guitar Hero or Mario Party. Video games is a great way to bring people together; it brought many of my past friends together. However, video games are two-edged sword. People can very easily get wrapped up in the game and forget the person next to them. I know, b/c when I was younger, I would spend days just gaming. As an adult now, I get bored after an hour. Just keep this mind.
(Editor's note: I think that the above question highlights how every one can have communication issues centered around language. When I initially asked about library programming, Kraus was confused because he thought I was asking about computer programming. I think that many of our patrons are confused because we use industry specific terminology such as programming, circulation, and reference. Those terms means something to librarians, but don't really convey our message to our audience.)
How can we best reach this audience?
It varies per each person. When I was a teen, my parents introduced me to a book called "Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger's Syndrome." I was hooked and read it within 2 weeks. It opened my eyes to my condition and I did not feel like such an oddball per se. What I'm getting at is that you have to alert students about their condition. Before doing this though, I'd advice talking it over with the parents first.
What items do we need to make sure we have in our library collections? In our teen spaces?
I'd recommend finding or organizing a "quiet place" for students who have AS or on the Autistic spectrum. When I was junior high and high school, I always had 3 safe areas to go when I was overwhelmed. These were: the Principal's office, the councilor's office, and the resource room. Knowing that such places were available in the school gave me an opportunity for my mind and stimuli to set at ease. Being AS, my mind can get overwhelmed very quickly, especially in a crowded school hall. Forming a place where just a student can go just for him or her I think is the best way to help out a student on the spectrum. This could be a corner in the library, or a chair assigned to him or her.
How can we best interact with teens on the spectrum at the public service desks?
Be patient and polite. I enjoyed almost all of my teachers in school because of this. A person that is inflexible or even sarcastic has never sit well with me.
(Editor's note: From my understanding, it is a more common characteristic among those on the spectrum to be literal in their communication so they do not respond well to or even understand sarcasm. Although they have never come out and said that he is on the spectrum, many people consider Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory to be an example of someone with Asperger's and if you watch the show you know that he often turns to his friends to find out if someone is being sarcastic before responding. I think one of the areas that we all could benefit from further training and experience is in interacting one on one with our teens who are on the spectrum. We tend to operate from a certain set of expectations and these expectations are quite different from those on the spectrum. Kraus highlights this well in the text of his book: I can't translate body language any better than i can interpret slang. I'm absolutely illiterate when it comes to reading hand and body gestures, eye motions, facial expressions, and postures (p.117).
TLT is committed to raising awareness about the special issues of teens with autism and is very excited to offer this prize package of 3 books to add to your library collection. Each book is designed to help teens on the spectrum better understand themselves and the world in which they live, and to help parents and educators better understand and meet the needs of teens on the spectrum.
How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger's by Jennifer McIlwee Myers
Asperger's in Pink: A mother and daughter guidebook for raising (or being!) a girl with Aasperger's by Julie Clark
To enter to win, please leave a comment and "like" this post. To help raise awareness about autism and libraries, please share this post with your friends. If you are a teen or a parent please enter to win so you can donate the books to the school or public library of your choice.
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