Sunderland to expand autism friendly programs

  • Katherine Hand director of the Sunderland Public Library on Tuesday afternoon at the library. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/25/2019 11:59:08 AM

Soon, Sunderland library patrons who are on the autism spectrum will be able to check out sensory toys.

Through a recently awarded $7,500 federal grant — known as the Library Services and Technology Act grant — Sunderland’s public library is aiming to make be a more welcoming place for children with Autism. The money, administered through the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, will be used to fund Sunderland Public Library’s project entitled “Access for All: Autism is Welcome Here.”

“We are proud to deliver grant funding to libraries for projects that fill unique needs of libraries across Massachusetts,” said Rob Favini, head of library advisory and development at the MBLC. “Libraries continue to be a vital resource to the communities they serve. Programs funded through LSTA grants illustrate the diverse range of topics and audiences served by Massachusetts libraries.”

To that end, “We will be working closely with consultants to discover ways we can make our facilities and services more comfortable for people on the autism spectrum, and library staff members will attend training sessions on how to best serve people on the autism spectrum,” said Katherine Hand, the School Street library’s director.

Additionally, Hand says the library intends to develop a sensory toy collection that patrons will be able to borrow. Sensory toys are toys that are designed to stimulate the senses, engaging children both cognitively and physically, a statement about the grant notes. Children on autism spectrum often crave certain sensory inputs, and sensory toys can help improve a child’s focus or provide a calming experience.

Any patron with a C/W MARS regional library card will be able to borrow these sensory toys.

“We think all children can benefit from use of these toys and we hope they will be well used by families in our region,” Hand said.

While the toys are a big part of it, Hand noted the largest focus of the library’s sensory-friendly initiative will be on providing public programs for children and teens on the autism spectrum and their families. Librarians will also solicit input on existing programs, services and facilities.

“We plan to establish a Parent Advisory Council group comprised of parents with children on the autism spectrum. We hope this group will serve as important advisers to us during this project, and will help us plan programs and services that meet the needs of their children,” Hand explains.

The library already has plans to host autism-friendly playgroups, and programs for teens on the autism spectrum to help them prepare for college and/or the workforce. The grant will begin in October of this year and will run through September 2020.

According to the statement, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners developed the LSTA direct grant program using federal funding to help libraries meet local community needs including programs that help new Americans learn English and become citizens; STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) projects; programs that serve teen needs; and projects that preserve valuable historical documents.

In addition to the direct library grant program, the state commissioners use the grant to support statewide programs and services including summer reading programs, research databases, the statewide eBook program, the Commonwealth Catalog and, which has information and resources for residents, the statement says.

Andy Castillo can be reached at

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