Teen Research Trending: Serving Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Bress, Andrea.  “Making Your School Library More Functional to Individuals with Autism.”  Library Media Connection, 32 (Aug./Sep. 2013):  46-7.

Though not a research article, strictly speaking, this practitioner-oriented essay makes ample use of research on autism and library services for people with autism.  This article is one of several dissemination activities that grew out of the recent PALS Project, a Florida State University (FSU) project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  The principal investigator was Dr. Nancy Everhart, a professor in the FSU School of Information, and the co-principal investigator was Dr. Juliann Woods, a professor in the FSU School of Communication Science and Disorders and associate director for research to practice at the Autism Institute.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that Drs. Everhart and Woods and colleagues of mine; however, I was not involved in this project.)  Andrea Bress was a student in the School of Communication Science and Disorders and a member of the PALS Project research team at the time this article was written.  Three other members of the team were doctoral students Amelia Anderson and Abigail Delehanty and Lezlie Cline, project manager for the Florida Center for Interactive Media.

Bress’s article does not mention Project PALS specifically nor does it focus exclusively on young adults, but all of the information and advice provided certainly can apply to any young adult with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  She notes that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, one in every eighty-eight children is diagnosed with ASD, and she adds that libraries have the potential to be safe, comfortable places for individuals with ASD.  In order for that to happen, librarians need to be aware of the kind of environment these individuals need in order to function best.  Specifically, a quiet place with low lighting, good signage, accessible technology, and no clutter is an optimal environment.  Routine is highly valued by individuals with ASD, so keeping materials, furniture, and technology in their regular, predictable locations is important.  Because interacting with others can be stressful, making self-checkout kiosks available can help make borrowing materials more user-friendly.

Bress offers specific advice, and, in a handy call-out box, conveys the point of view of an individual with ASD.  For example, “I like things to be the same” and “I am most comfortable when I can access a quite space.”  She concludes by pointing out that making these kinds of modifications to libraries can help “all students who need structure and routine” (47).   Though her focus is on school libraries, the information on serving young people with ASD is potentially useful in public library settings as well.

More about Project PALS . . .

The purpose of Project PALS was to develop and evaluate training for librarians on providing services to people with ASD.  The result was a series of four modules, each lasting an hour, which can be accessed for free through Webjunction.  A Webjunction account is needed, but there is no fee to register.  The link to Webjunction, as well as a list of other resources, is available on the project website: http://pals.cci.fsu.edu/.  

The modules are:

  1.      About Autism in the Library
  2.      Arranging the Library Environment
  3.      Communicating with Individuals with Autism
  4.      Interacting with Technology

The modules are self-paced, and clear learning objectives are provided with each one.  Any librarian who works with young adults, whether in a school or public library setting, will benefit from completing these modules and learning more about serving teens with ASD.

Don Latham is a professor in the School of Information at Florida State University, where he teaches courses in information needs of young adults, information needs of children, and graphic novels.