Have you ever wished you could turn down the lights at a bright restaurant? Or thought, “Wow that’s a really strong smell,” or “That music is so loud!” What about all of those feelings at once?
Not everyone has sensory regulation, or the ability to process different and varied sensory input from our environment (such as what they see, sounds, smells, textures, or taste) that children constantly receive but can’t understand. This causes children to “act out” or express feelings of anxiousness or anger in inappropriate ways.
Amy Sharkey became a leader in this specialized area which took many years in the making. As a Special Educator for over 25 years, Amy found her calling through years of working in Early Intervention and at local libraries.
The children that Amy works with are children that have behaviors, not just everyday two year old tantrums. Some children have severe behaviors that restrict them from being able to go out in the community. This could be a child who is hyper sensitive to sounds and scents, making the child feel anxious and therefore act out, or a child with Autism that cannot communicate how they feel and therefore act out. Some children cannot self regulate to the point that they vomit. These children, parents, and families feel stuck and isolated in an already isolating world.
At first Amy would bring these families to the libraries to model and practice coping skills, transition skills, and social skills in a somewhat controlled environment.
It was time to take a step further and start to coach families on preschool skills such as sitting to attend, follow directions, sharing, and playing with peers their age. It may seem to be “known” to some families, but children with sensory needs require this to be taught, practiced, and reinforced. Looking for a safe place for these families led Amy to reach out to her children’s librarians and see what they thought about starting story times where the librarian leads.
This model creates a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for the students among their peers.
Amy supports the families and librarians with behavior, communication, or any type of other support they may need. The children’s librarians are wonderful and support Amy and her families but aren’t special education teachers. Librarians also need support to assist the families with children with sensory needs. These children and families need strategies and community space to be able to practice these techniques. They also need a specialist there to model the strategies and give the families and children feedback. This space needs to be somewhat controlled with reinforcers and tangible sensory support objects like fidgets and breathing balls. Putting special education and libraries together was a win win!
The most recent lessons were directed towards spring. The children’s librarian chooses the book and usually a craft. The sensory strategy this month was Calm Down Bottles.
- Modeling, including simple signs
- Motivators: fidgets, bubbles, movement break
- Calming strategies to deescalate and self regulate that can include breathing balls, headphones, and bumpy seats
- At the end of the story children are encouraged to complete the crafts, sensory make and take, and play and explore at the library with support from the children’s librarian and from Amy.
At the end of the story time parents are able to express feelings, asks questions, and also find
other support in areas such as milestones for their child and how to go about getting help from
Amy. This program is helping to bridge the gap that many families are facing with their young children.
A testament from Youth Services Librarian, Andrea Hunter, at Mifflin Community Library: As I read to the group, Amy observes and evaluates to see if any children are in need of assistance to regulate their bodies to stay calm. She has strategies and tools to create a positive experience. With this, we are able to offer something to families who felt isolated and hesitated to try new activities.
For More Information About This Program Contact Amy. Amy conducts teacher and in-service training to other organizations.