Spaces for Children with Special Needs


The weather in Denver today is snowy and cold; the roads are icy, and most people have elected to stay in their homes rather than venture out into the world. That means that there are few people in the library now, which gives me time to reflect on the space we have in the library and how it, and the staff here, support early literacy for the families in our neighborhood.

We’ve recently had an overhaul of our children’s area - new furniture, letter squares on the wall, and an invisible “boundary” which maintains the area as a sanctuary for children and their families. These changes have meant that families now choose to come to our branch when they had previously avoided it due to the mixing that had been occurring between adult patrons without children and those with children. The space has become one that sparks curiosity because children are able to play uninhibited while their parents stand aside and allow them to discover on their own. While we don’t have as much space as other libraries, the children’s area is one that is welcoming and educational for children of all ages.

At the CLEL Conference this past September, the keynote speaker, Karen Riley, discussed creating spaces that include all populations, including those children who might be on the Autism spectrum or have other special needs. It was an inspiring discussion about how families with children in this realm often feel unwelcome in public areas. While not every library has the ability to accommodate every person, attempts made in this vein are noticed and appreciated. Our space naturally provides some of these elements as it is set up now, even without our intentionally creating it this way, but I know there is more we can do.

If you are considering modifying your children’s space in order to accommodate children with special needs, here are some things to consider:

  • Children with special needs sometimes have difficulty with change. Maintaining regularity in storytime (and even providing handouts) can help ease anxiety for everyone.

  • Walls and spaces that are too “busy” can cause a child with hyperactivity or other mental “disorganization” to be unable to relax.

  • Natural lighting is more soothing than fluorescent lighting whenever possible.

  • Accommodations made for children with special needs will not be harmful to children who are developing “normally.”

No matter what kind of space you have, it is valuable to consider what modifications might be easy for you to make that will make huge differences in the lives of families with children with special needs. Maybe 2015 could be the year!

Happy New Year to everyone, and here’s to a happy, healthy, and positive 2015!

Recent Posts