Iowa City autism group plans ‘browsing hour’ at the library

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Autism “Browsing Hour”

Iowa City Public Library — Saturday, Sept. 17 at 9 a.m.

On Saturday, Sept. 17, the Iowa City Public Library will open one hour early for a very special clientele: local individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.

The Iowa City Autism Community, an organization that developed formally this year out of an earlier parent support group, reached out to the ICPL to create this partnership after parents noted that the vibrant, thriving library space could sometimes be overwhelming to their children.

Iowa City Public Library
Photo by Randy Stern.

Parent Dina Bishara said in an email that she and her 8-year-old autistic son “went an entire year without visiting the library because the thought produced such severe anxiety — all the children, the noise, the unpredictability, the hustle and bustle.” There’s also the matter of encountering other people: “So many parents of autistic kids … have often been on the receiving end of disapproving looks and unsolicited parenting advice when their kids are acting in an unexpected way,” she says, “or are having a difficult time under stressful conditions.”

Bishara, one of the event organizers, and others in her group started out with a goal of discovering a way for the library to be more accessible for children with sensory issues. After brainstorming with the ICPL staff, the library agreed to open up its first floor an hour early so that those on the spectrum and their families could enjoy the facility. “We want autistic folks to know that this is their library, too,” Bishara said.

The event blossomed from there. A variety of community partners have become involved. One on One Dog Therapy will have animals on hand for the full hour, and storyteller Darrin Crow will be spinning yarns (complete with shadow puppets!) from 9–9:30 a.m.

Iowa City Autism Community is hopeful that this event, if successful, could grow into something more. They’re already seeing interest from other potential partners. “The North Liberty Community Library has recently approached us about offering their own accessible browsing hour,” Bishara said. For that event, scheduled for next month (Oct. 14 at 5:30 p.m.), “they have actually arranged to have Marigold, a miniature horse from Winds of Change Mini-Equine Therapy, on-site for kids to spend time with, as well as other sensory activities. So, we are very excited for that event, as well!”

Bishara said that, in planning this event, she found “one library in Colorado that did something similar,” but thinks that the Iowa City Autism Community’s efforts are unique to the area. The group has other outreach and inclusion events planned as well, including, Bishara said, a collaboration with the Autism Center at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital “to present two workshops in October on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and autism-specific issues vis a vis IEPs.”

Events like these will increase visibility and, the group hopes, help create stronger networks for members, especially from nearby rural communities. The Iowa City Autism Community is open to interested parents, autistic people, professionals and caregivers both in Iowa City and in surrounding areas. Saturday’s event is open to all ages.

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