SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – April is Autism Awareness Month and, throughout the borough, schools and organizations are holding efforts designed to promote differences, inclusion, and acceptance.
At the South Plainfield Public Library, however, meeting the needs of those with special needs is part of an ongoing ‘everyone is welcome’ approach, with programs and services held not just in April but throughout the year.
“April is Autism Awareness Month, but at the library we are dedicated to meeting the needs of all our residents and patrons year-round,” said Director Linda Hansen. “Our goal is to welcome and accept everyone; special accommodations to those with special needs are just part of our regular offerings.”
Since reopening a little over three years ago, in and around the library has become a ‘welcoming and safe place’ for special needs patrons. The library offers quiet rooms to those looking to work one-on-one and/or enjoy the facility in a more comfortable atmosphere and, most recently, extensive renovations have revamped Willow Park into a fully inclusive playground. Throughout the year, the library also welcomes special needs high school students as part of a collaborative job training effort with the school district.
Additionally, the South Plainfield Public Library serves as a place of employment for Eddie Lin, a 21-year-old with autism from Edison. Lin, who many throughout the community know as the artist behind ‘Au’some Balloon Creations, began volunteering at the library a few years ago and, last December, took on a part-time position as a page; he can be found stocking shelves and performing other duties a few hours each week.
“For him, it isn’t about the money but the fact that he goes to a job and is being a contributing person to the community. His confidence level has improved so much and that is key,” said Lin’s mom, Jenny. “We have these kids in the community that strive to be included and the library is embracing this population, not just in April but throughout the year.”
Lin added that the staff at the library has been wonderful, looking out for Eddie’s best interests. “I know he is in a nurturing and safe environment. They all look after him,” she said. “I am very proud of my son, but mostly very thankful for the opportunity and everything the library has done for Eddie They believe in him.”
Upcoming events planning for the special needs community include a Saturday, April 6 performance of ‘The Three Little Pigs’ presented by the PropBox Players. The program will take place at the library from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and, following the show, children will have the opportunity to color and play. At this time, Patrice Garrison, MSW, founder of ‘The Sandpit’ (https://socialskillssandpit.com) – an organization dedicated to embracing the unique communication styles of individuals with social and behavioral difficulties – will be available to speak with parents and caregivers.
Additionally, the library’s popular Special Needs Sensory Storytime will resume at 12 p.m. Saturday, April 13; this monthly program, which is run by Children’s Librarian Jessica Gentile and Senior Library Assistant Mija Celemente, is designed to be an inclusive event for preschool through young adult aged individuals.
“Special needs programming is so important because it’s a way to raise awareness and strengthen services for children and adults with disabilities and their families/caregivers,” said Library Assistant Jailene Betancourt. “Programs like these are important because they offer a way to make participants comfortable and feel included in a surrounding that is geared toward their different learning styles.”
“I’m very proud that the library staff works, not just during certain months but year round, to celebrate diversity and create a welcoming space for all our patrons,” said Hansen.
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