Helping autistic pupils to use the library

This week, school librarian Kateri Wilson describes how she helped autistic pupils to engage with the library at James Young High School, West Lothian.

How do you encourage autistic pupils to use the library and gain information handling skills when they can’t yet cope with mainstream lessons? At JYHS Library we found the solution was to have those pupils in the library at a time when it could be only them, weekly, supported by their teacher and some highly adaptable, flexible lessons.

This small group presents some unique challenges. First off their academic abilities and limitations can vary dramatically within the group, meaning pacing of a lesson can be tricky. Secondly their autism presents in different ways. Often the group’s dislike of reading can make encouraging library use difficult. Last year we also had the challenge of a pupil averse to writing.

I have found that the solution is to be flexible about what I teach and to prepare a few variations or adapt the lesson ‘on the hoof’. I started the year teaching the same information-handling skills and induction lesson I teach to all the other S1 classes albeit altered for the smaller group. Each lesson is on one topic, e.g. fiction, internet reliability, etc., and is supposed to last half a period. For some the task was completed with time to spare while others took longer and needed more support (not so different to a normal class). Greater tailoring was required for parts that needed group work or discussion. Often it was a case of substituting a different activity, e.g. making it a choice from various options and talking with them about what was right or wrong. Ideally the second half would consist of independent reading, but for the pupils who didn’t do this additional tasks linked to the topic were used.

I had to create additional material for the class as I see them twice as often as the regular S1 classes. One of these was a research project to create a lapbook on Ancient Egypt using the skills they had just learned about to find the information (you can find lots of tutorials for creating lapbooks online). Too much choice was sometimes a bad thing: they found it hard to select a topic or choose facts from a book or internet site without specific questions. In those cases I told them what to do and what questions to answer, allowing them to become comfortable and gradually make their own choices. By the end all were choosing what topics they wanted to look at and what information to put in.

For the following term I created a Chinese New Year set of lessons. These varied from online games about Chinese New Year traditions to drawing a version of the story of Chinese New Year to making wishes to hang on the wishing tree. I then moved on to storytelling, first looking at Little Red Riding Hood, then Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and finally Greek mythology. The pupils created their own versions of stories, and saw us making Medusa masks, playing “Olympic gods snap” and reading various myths (including an excerpt from Hercules: Bampots and Heroes by Matthew Fitt’). Not all the pupils are great at cutting things out, so sometimes it helped to have this done in advance or helped with at the time.

The lessons could be expanded or made more challenging. Sometimes I had multiple levels of the task, other times extension activities - even if this was just getting the pupil to add more detail. The benefit of the internet is that there is no shortage of ideas and inspiration and by sticking with popular topics there was plenty of material to use or adapt.

Try a few of these!

Medusa Mask

Olympic Gods Snap

Wimpy Kid Activities

Chinese New Year activities

Kateri Wilson is on Twitter @JYHSLibrary. Please let us know your thoughts on this blog by commenting below.

Kateri Wilson

Kateri Wilson is the librarian at James Young High School.