Guiding Special Needs Families: What Children’s Librarians Can Do


I’ve been working in the same library for six years now. I’ve finally grown roots in the community and feel comfortable with my duties and my families. One of my goals this year is to make the library a place where families come for help–and not just with finding books. As a children’s librarian I meet children when they are born. Some babies begin storytime when they are just a few weeks old and I am able to watch them grow up.

Over the past few years I have had times when children begin to show signs of needing extra help. Sometimes it’s obvious, and other times it presents itself slowly over time. As a children’s specialist it is my duty to guide parents when this happens because early detection and intervention are so important. Sometimes you are the only adult outside of family that is in a child’s life. Some children do not go to preschool and you’re their only exposure, and some children can easily slip through the cracks until kindergarten. By that time the child could have had years of support!

Here are some things you can do to help:

What you need to know:

  • If a parent thinks their child has special needs they can either a) get a diagnosis from their pediatrician, or b) call their school system for a meeting to talk about their child.

If you think a child needs extra help:

  • Don’t diagnose! There are so many kinds of special needs, and specialists go to school for years to be able to specifically diagnose children. But you work with children everyday and know when a child’s development is not on par. This is difficult, but you can say something like, “I notice that Jack isn’t participating in the specific storytime activity. You may want to mention that to your pediatrician at your next appointment.” Or, “I notice that Jill doesn’t make eye contact and is really uncomfortable coming up to the flannel board. The school system offers extra support that can help her so she can start school more comfortably.”

What you can do:

  • Make developmental checklists available for families. Parents, especially parents of firstborns, may be unaware of developmental milestones. You can use this or this as a beginner’s guide.
  •  Ask your school system to come into storytime to observe. School systems have specialists who observe and diagnose children everyday. They know the signs and what help they can offer.
  • Contact the Zero to Three, Birth to Three, or Headstart program in your area. Have them stay during craft time or play time and observe and talk to parents about child development.
  • Have book displays on child development, or setup a parent’s section so they can browse.
  • Make sure your storytimes are inclusive. Modify activities to suit everyone in the room. Make announcements before you begin an activity on ways to adapt it.

What do you do to support special needs families?