Sensory kits for P.E.I. children with autism builds connection with library

Families who have children with autism now have a new place to go for support on P.E.I.

Their library cards can now be used to take home what are called sensory kits. The kits contain a collection of small toys, designed to engage and calm children on the autistic spectrum.

“It gives families the opportunity to try out some sensory toys without actually purchasing them,” said Nathalie Walsh, executive director of the Autism Society of P.E.I.

“Kids as you know with toys can be, they like or they don’t like, it gives them the opportunity to go to their local branch, borrow these for a little while, try out some things.”

Kelly Cameron and her four-year-old daughter, Leanna, are among the first to try out one of the new sensory kits.

“I thought it was really awesome that they were doing that,” Cameron said. “As the parent of a child with autism, sensory kits are part of our world and it’s rather expensive to test a lot of products out.”

Cameron said it’s hard to find a lot of sensory toys locally and buying them online means they can’t try them out to see if Leanna likes them.

“You just have to purchase it and hope your child likes it,” Cameron said. “So we spent a lot of money up front buying a lot of sensory toys that she didn’t really want.”

Cameron compared the materials in the sensory kit to fidget toys with an important purpose.

“A couple of years ago Leanna had a hard time sitting still, ” Cameron said. “She would pick at her own hands and skin and she’d pull her skin off when she was just sitting still.”

‘Not a scary place’

The new sensory kits have also created a new connection for the Camerons and the library, one they had lost.

“I haven’t come to the library for a few years because I just don’t know how she’s going to react in this quiet environment and what kind of a scene we’re going to make sometimes,” Cameron said.

“Knowing that these sensory kits are here, it shows that the library has an understanding of autism and it’s not such a scary place to come any more with your child.”

The sensory kits grew out of a partnership that started last year between the library service and the Autism Society.

Several P.E.I. libraries offered sensory story times, designed specifically for families with children on the spectrum. They would take place before the library is open, the lighting was adjusted and the society loaned fidget toys for during the story time.

“Feeling like they have a place here and they belong here, that’s pretty awesome, we really want families to feel this is a place where they can come and be comfortable,” said Roseanne Gauthier, youth services librarian for the P.E.I. Public Library Service.

The library is now looking at ways to offer programming for Islanders on the autism spectrum of all ages, not just children.

Across the Island

The P.E.I. Public Library Service launched 30 sensory kits this week, with one in every branch across the Island, and two each in Charlottetown, Summerside, Montague, Cornwall and Stratford.

“It’s really important, we are a provincial society but the resources we have are housed at our location in Charlottetown, so this is something that is making them accessible across the Island,” Walsh said.

“Things can get very pricey for families so any opportunity to create an equal playing field for families is wonderful.”

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