A growing number of libraries are opening earlier and holding special story times to cater to some little Minnesotans who like to read in their own way.
Carver County and several other Minnesota libraries are piloting Sensitive Storytimes to accommodate children on the autism spectrum or with sensory processing disorders.
The Center for Engaging Autism has trained librarians across Minnesota to better serve children on the spectrum in their communities.
Kristin Jones, a youth services librarian, participated in the center's sensitive story time workshops and brought the pilot program to Carver County this fall at the Chanhassen and Waconia library branches.
Jones uses rhythm sticks, scarves, egg shakers, interactive books and a visual schedule to engage the children.
Jones points at a board of pictures to show the children the story time activities of the day. One picture shows the children sitting in a circle. Once each activity is completed, the children say goodbye to the picture and move onto the next part of story time. Jones keeps the opening and closing of each story the same to better engage the children and make them feel more comfortable.
While the program is only just starting at Carver County, Jones said, she hopes to see a greater turnout.
"I've gotten a lot of good responses from parents," she said. I'm really excited to see how it grows."
For young readers who need more quiet at sensitive story time, librarians are encouraged to put up a pop-tent or lay a blanket over a table for children to crawl inside and still enjoy story time.
Shannon Andreson, executive director of the Center for Engaging Autism, said librarians have to be attuned to the differences in children on the spectrum. "It's really supportive for kids that have different learning styles and learning needs," she said.
The center received a grant from the Minnesota Department of Education to work on literacy initiatives for parents with children of autism in 2013. The center applied the grant to train more than 50 librarians about sensitive story time, including Metropolitan Library Service Agency and the Hennepin County Library librarians.
Hennepin County librarians are now working with the autism community to analyze how to improve their library services.
The Maple Grove branch began its sensitive story time pilot in June. The library is working to host another one sometime in winter, said Kathryn Zimmerman, Maple Grove's senior librarian.
Anoka County's Northtown library kicked off its sensitive story times in January. The branch opens at 9:30 a.m. each Saturday for sensitive story time.
Jonah Weinberg, executive director of the Autism Society of Minnesota, said libraries across the nation are learning how to assist families on the spectrum.
"It follows the trend happening in movie theaters and museums," he said. "Times are being set aside that allow for more sensory or less sensory input, to be as inclusive as possible."
Jen Reiter, 45, of Maple Grove, dreamed about sharing her love of the library with her 8-year-old daughter, Olivia. But Olivia often can't keep still, Reiter said, and library and book stores can be unwelcoming. At the sensitive story times, she said, Olivia can connect with other children on the autism spectrum, and spin and jump around all she wants.
"For us, it was really a game changer," she said. "It gave her the opportunity … to really be comfortable and be who she is in a library. It's such a gift."