I am writing to express my appreciation and support for the fabulous work being done by the Illinois Office of the Secretary of State and State Librarian, Jesse White; and the Illinois State Library’s Targeting Autism Project. For the past four years, the Illinois State Library has made great strides in helping librarians throughout Illinois and the nation to understand and better serve the needs of the large population of individuals with autism.
As an internationally known consultant, author, speaker and autistic self-advocate, I am passionately committed to helping improve the daily lives of people with autism. My devotion to this cause led me to become the Founder and first Executive Director of GRASP, the largest membership organization in the world comprised of adults on the autism spectrum. I am also a lifelong library user and I can attest to the cultural value of libraries in improving the quality of life within our communities. Clearly, the Targeting Autism project through ongoing training, consultation and various programming initiatives is playing an important role in improving the quality of life for patrons and families impacted by autism. In a prior career as a minor-league diplomat, I heard Queen Noor of Jordan accurately describe internet access as the best measuring stick of poverty we had. I agreed, and starting then, libraries, for me, took on new meaning.
I first became aware of the Targeting Autism Project last year, when I was asked to keynote their 2017 National Forum. I soon learned that Illinois was unique in providing a national platform for engaging community stakeholders with librarians, for the purpose of increasing the role of libraries as resource centers for individuals and families impacted by autism. The outcomes of the annual forums and other educational initiatives coming out of the Targeting Autism project have been both plentiful and valuable. Some of these outcomes have been evidenced by the proliferation of environmental changes made within Illinois library facilities to accommodate the sensory needs of patrons on the autism spectrum. In addition, many libraries have learned how to collaborate with community stakeholders to add resources and programming relevant to this growing population. Finally, many Illinois libraries are making a concerted effort to offer jobs and internships to autistic applicants. Overall, Targeting Autism offers a valuable model for developing inclusive libraries throughout and beyond Illinois. And finally, when one considers its size, Targeting Autism’s relative achievements loom large. I’ve worked closely with the Brooklyn, NY library (and especially their heroic Inclusion Manager, Carrie Banks) and your state’s programs…more than “hold up.”
Kudos to the Illinois Secretary of State and the Illinois State Library for support of the Targeting Autism initiative. The need to continue this effort, however, is ongoing. Social stigma and a lack of knowledge about autism remains a pervasive challenge. The dumb-dumbs are still out there (and often vocal). The development and continuation of programs such as Targeting Autism will elevate libraries to play a leadership role in promoting acceptance and inclusion throughout our neurodiverse society.