British Columbia

Autism library helps children experience public places

The Autism B.C. Lending Library in Richmond is an inclusive and stigma-free space for children and families living with autism spectrum disorder.

Wanita Ryan and her daughter Cloe attend the library to be with kids and families who share their experience

Cloe Zemann visits the Autism B.C. Lending Library in Richmond to interact with other children who may have learning disabilities. (Vivian Luk)

Wanita Ryan is thankful she has a place to bring her ten year old daughter Cloe to experience public spaces in a place where there are other children with autism.

Autism B.C. Lending Library in Richmond has been open for about a month and Ryan and her daughter have been attending ever since.

"It's great for her to interact with children that are like her and other parents who understand," Ryan said.

"Everybody is friendly and on the same playing field."

 In addition to being autistic, Cloe also has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Ryan says it can be hard for Cloe to be around other children in public places.

"When you get the staring looks and other kids not understanding why your child behaves that way. They just think your kid's odd or something," she said.

Stigma-free zone

Every aspect of the library and the building was designed with autistic people in mind according to librarian, Sabrina Gurniak.

"This is a space that's specifically for people who might have more barriers to entry in regular public spaces."

Librarian Sabrina Gurniak says these chairs, which fold up for privacy, are a place where children can relax if they are feeling overwhelmed by their surroundings. (Vivian Luk)

The lights are slightly less fluorescent to help those who may suffer from sensory processing issues and there are tools to help children who may not communicate verbally.

"Even something as simple as a bunch of people in a room chattering can be too much for someone on the spectrum," Gurniak said.

If a child does want to escape a situation that may be loud or uncomfortable for them there are special chairs that fold up and give them privacy to calm down.

"We call the building and the library a stigma-free zone. So it's the kind of thing if someone's having a hard time and upset at something … you're not going to get stares, you're not going to get people asking if everything is ok because we know that it happens"

With files from The Early Edition and Vivian Luk