By Sophia Dewaard
The Iowa City Public Library traded its typically hushed atmosphere with a buzz of children’s laughter, dogs, and live music.
The Iowa City Autism Community partnered with the Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., on June 17 to host a private browsing and playtime hour called Autism Friendly Library Browsing and Activities.
The event, which was closed to the public, allowed autistic children of all ages and their families to play with toys and therapy animals and experience a special music-therapy lesson in a calming environment.
This event was part of the Autism Accessible Library Partnership that alternates between the Iowa City Public Library and the North Liberty Public Library every month, providing a range of activities for special-needs kids.
Parents who attended the event with their children said that to create an environment that is accommodating to the needs of autistic children, a calm setting with dim lighting and little background noise is ideal.
The private events do not intend to shut the public out of the Iowa City Autism Community; rather, the goal is to provide privacy for people with autism. Dina Bishara, a cofounder of the Iowa City Autism Community, said she particularly enjoys the privacy of such events for her autistic son. The organization aims to create events and social situations for kids with autism to engage with one another and participate in activities.
“I am actually pretty limited as to where I can go with my autistic son because busy places cause him a great deal of anxiety,” Bishara said. “So, typically, no malls, no grocery stores, no farmers’ market, no Pedestrian Mall, no library.”
Children at the event fell on various parts of the autism spectrum. At times, kids would struggle to sit still or control the volume of their voices. Kathleen Kingman, an original cofounder of an older support group that became the Iowa City Autism Community, said it is this kind of behavior that causes many families of children with autism feel judged by the general public.
“The dirty looks we would get because [my daughter Audrey] would make noise were just awful,” she said.
Kingman’s told The Daily Iowan that she loves to go shopping, but the noises and stimulation in the mall make it difficult.
Organizing events such as this fulfill the organization’s goals, which Bishara said are to make communities more accessible and inclusive, to give families resources, and to reach out to rural communities to connect them with opportunities.
By providing support and resources to families of people with autism, Bishara and Kingman said the organization is working to create a network of people with similar needs and interests that will become a mainstream way of interacting as a whole in Iowa City.
“We hope to continue looking for new ways to create opportunities for the inclusion of autistic people in our community and to continue to partner with local organizations and business to create those opportunities,” Bishara said.