Adaptive story hour addresses children with special needs

Preschool children have the opportunity nearly every Friday during the school year to participate in Pendleton County Library’s Story Hour. For most of those children, this is a time of learning to socialize with others their ages, learning to sit and listen for a few minutes, and making a small craft with the help of a guardian. In short, it is a time of appropriate interaction for little people who are learning how to operate in the bigger world around them; however, children with special needs often find this environment to be overwhelming.
        Kerensa Smith saw it with her own little one who has special needs when she took him to story hour. “My son would try the table activities with the others. They were over his head. He doesn’t understand things such as turn-taking. The sensory activities were overwhelming.”
        Smith wanted her son to experience what other children around him got to experience, so she decided to take action. As a result, Sensory Friendly Story Time starts at Pendleton County Public Library on April 16.
        Smith is a professional speech pathologist who is also the mother of two children who have significant special needs. She and her supervisor at Speech and Language Therapists, Inc., of Cold Spring, approached three different library branches to propose a story hour that is geared toward children who cannot always adapt to themselves to the typical story hour environment. Pendleton County Public eagerly accepted the proposal. The library will be one of a handful across the country to have such a program.
        Smith will be working with Tonya Coleman to bring Adaptive Story Hour into being.
        What will it look like? Smith isn’t quite sure.
        “We will follow the themes of the typical story hour and adapt the activities to make them more sensory-friendly. We will read more sensory-friendly books, but since we are developing this story hour on our own, we honestly are building it as we go,” Smith explains. “We will learn to accommodate as necessary.”
        What she does know is that many of the children that they will encounter can’t follow the typical story hour regimen. “I know they will be more free to stand and explore--more free to do what they need sensory-wise,” Smith explains. “They need to be able to interact with each other. We may have more music time than the traditional and maybe more art activities. This program will be more exploratory than the norm.”
        The main goal will be to introduce these children to pre-literacy skills in a fun environment--something that a typical program cannot adequately address for many of these children.    
        While the story hour will focus on the children, Smith sees another benefit: parents will have an opportunity to network, something that is hard to come by when the demands of caring for a special needs child overtake your own needs.
        “We can’t just leave kids at any babysitter or daycare,” she explains. “You often feel isolated and overwhelmed by all of the daily needs of care and appointments. It is hard to know when [other special needs caregivers] can have the time [to network].”
        As the program begins, she knows that the parents will likely jump in to help, but she also foresees a day when volunteers would possibly be welcome. She knows the need for such programs for special needs children is out there, and even though those children are in the minority, the need is great. She has seen the need in her line of work and in her experience with her own children; so as the program grows, she plans to welcome especially high school students who have an interest with working with special needs citizens in their careers as volunteers in the adaptive story hour.
        She also has other hopes.
        “Working in a dream world, I would like to find a place to donate books to us so that we can send a book home with each child every month.
        “We’re also looking at the possibility of continuing throughout the summer, maybe by doing one session a month, if we get a good response. I plan to open the idea up to the parents to see if they would be interested.”
        In spite of a feeling of flying blind, as it were, Smith expects good things. “I’m looking forward to it.”