Kirk-Bear unveils new sensory program

Often children who are neurodiverse and autistic have trouble with children’s activities because of the crowds, noises and other distractions.

The Kirk-Bear Canyon Library is hosting a new sensory program for children with autism spectrum disorders and other neurological and developmental conditions.

The program takes place monthly on varying Tuesdays. In February, it will be held on Feb. 14 and Feb. 28. Capacity is limited, so reservations are recommended.

The library started the program in November, after several COVID-19-related delays. It was a collaboration between librarians, the Friends of Kirk-Bear Canyon Library, Hughes Federal Credit Union and the Autism Society of Southern Arizona.

The sensory program is the first of its kind in the Pima County public Library system. Previously, it offered Sensory Storytime.

The new program is meant to stimulate brain development in young people, in an environment with dim lighting and noise-canceling headphones.

Within this calming environment, there are different stations with sensory activities and toys for infants to children up to 5 years old.

The Autism Society of Southern Arizona consulted with the library and provided training for library staff through its Autism Friendly Communities Program.

“During our training, we discussed with them the challenges that autistic kids face and how to best work with them,” said Kate Elliott, executive director for the Autism Society of Southern Arizona.

The organization offers training for different groups, schools and businesses.

“We do training and talk to anybody about creating more inclusive spaces for autistic people, from employment to school. That’s definitely a big mission of ours, to be able to create opportunities for autistic individuals to engage in every space in a way that is successful to them.”

The new library program offers activities such as water and sand tables and a balance beam, as well as sensory toys.

“Each different station allows a different type of sensory input,” Elliott said.

There is a baby-specific area with toys for infants.

Reading rooms in the back of the library are set up as a calm-down area.

“If a child becomes overwhelmed or they have trouble transitioning when the program is over, they can go and be there. They have special lights that are calming and weighted lap blankets. It’s a nice place for them to transition, if they become too overwhelmed and need to be out of the main area,” Elliott said.

The program has been popular thus far. The January session was full.

“I think it’s a need that’s been in the community. The regular story times are wonderful, but they can often be sensorily overwhelming for neurodivergent and autistic kids. Having an opportunity, in a place that is sensory-friendly, for families with autistic kids to go really makes all the difference in them being able to get out of the house,” Elliott said.

“The typical story times are really fantastic, but there’s a lot more kids allowed in them. There’s also a lot of singing, running around and kids yelling. Everybody sits in line to listen to the story. A lot of those things can be really challenging for autistic kids. … Kids with autism often have sensory issues, so it can be very overwhelming to have all of that activity around them. Sitting still can be really challenging. Offering sensory play can give them a way to engage while easing that anxiety, allowing them the opportunity to engage in a way that is friendly and inviting to them.”

Elliott said the program not only helps children to develop important skills, such as the ability to problem solve, but provides a space where they can socialize with others.

“Having this program provides an opportunity for these kids to get out, play and connect with other kids and for parents to connect with other parents in a way that is welcoming and possible,” Elliott said.

“There’s not a lot of places for us to go with our kids. This opportunity just provides an outlet for these families that’s really needed.”

Kirk-Bear Canyon Library Sensory Program

WHEN: 10:30 to 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14; 11:15 to 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28

WHERE: Kirk Bear Canyon Library, 8959 E. Tanque Verde Road, Tucson

PRICE: Free

INFO: 520-594-5275, pima.bibliocommons.com/v2/events

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