The Literacy Office of the Illinois State Library (ISL) included autism on the list of important topics addressed at this year’s “On the Road to Literacy” Conference held at the University of Illinois, Chicago, on Saturday, April 8. Mary Pelich, Autism Trainer & Consultant, *Targeting Autism Project, ISL; Suzanne Schriar, Associate Director, Library Automation & Technology, ISL, and Principle Investigator, Targeting Autism Project; and Debra Vines, Illinois State Library Advisory Committee Member and Founder & Executive Director of The Answer, Inc. had the privilege of delivering presentations at the event. April, designated as Autism Awareness Month, contributed to the focus and timeliness of the content.
Mary and Suzanne shared their knowledge of the highly individualized and often hidden characteristics of autism. They provided many suggestions and examples of ways to overcome the learning obstacles and challenges faced by individuals with autism, including: (1) physical and spatial accommodations, (2) visual aids, (3) format adaptations of reading materials, and (4) practical advice for ensuring inclusive and welcoming interactions. Debra shared her personal story as the mother of an adult son with non-verbal autism and how her experience led her to start her own not for profit organization, The Answer, Inc., in 2007. The Answer supports parents and caregivers by providing case management/referral services, resources, tutoring and recreational opportunities for individuals with autism and their families. Debra addressed the major issue of young adults on the spectrum who experience unique challenges in finding work or enrolling in appropriate education opportunities after leaving high school due to poor literacy skills; and she shared how The Answer, Inc., is addressing this need with their “Spectrum University Tutoring Program”.
In addition to these workshops, Mary and Suzanne led a lunchtime discussion with literacy tutors on how the ISL Literacy Office has added autism-related books to their adult new reader collections and story kits. Both also provided a demonstration of sensory activities added to the story kits to engage new readers on the autism spectrum. General information and instructions on borrowing the materials and working with new readers was also shared. For more information about the Literacy Office at the Illinois State Library, contact Beth Paoli.
*Targeting Autism is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Secretary of State/Illinois State Library.