As Librarian Ashley Wyche led storytime at the Arlington Public Library one morning, she noticed a small girl having trouble sitting still and staying quiet like the other young listeners.Wyche said she wasn’t bothered that the energetic girl talked and ran happily about the room during the story but she sensed that some of the other attendees found the child’s actions distracting.Speaking with the girl’s mother after storytime, Wyche said she learned the child had a form of autism. Wyche said the mother apologized unnecessarily for her child’s behavior and asked if the library had a storytime better suited for children with special needs.“I was sad to say ‘No.’ I told her that we welcomed everyone at storytime and that I would love to see the pair the following week,” Wyche recalled. “I didn’t see them again and it was a heartbreaking realization for me that the library wasn’t filling that family’s needs, so I decided to do what I could to help.”That brief interaction was the spark behind the Arlington Public Library’s newly launched “Born to Stand Out” program, developed by Wyche and fellow librarian Lisa Smant.Born to Stand Out, which will be held at 10:30 a.m. the first Monday of every month at the Southwest Branch Library, is designed to create a comfortable setting for children with special needs and their families to play, learn, sing and experience storytime together. Some features include a privacy tent for children who don’t feel comfortable in the center of the room, fidget toys for those who need to keep their hands busy during storytime, as well as mess-free finger painting and puzzles.“There’s no pressure for the whole group to do the same thing. You can choose to play, you can listen to the story, you can do a craft. No one has to act a certain way. You can just be who you are and enjoy what the library has to offer,” Smant said.Caroline Gresham and her son were among a handful of families who participated in the first Born to Stand Out storytime on Monday, March 6. Gresham called the storytime “an answered prayer.”“He has a really hard time sitting still in a new environment, so having the option of sensory activities was really great for him,” said Gresham, adding that she would be sharing the event with mom groups she participates in.The early literacy program, which received a $115 grant from the Arlington Alliance for Youth, aligns with City Council priority to Support Quality Education. The library is seeking additional funding for accessible furniture and play tables, sensory materials, therapy toys and other features.“I am constantly inspired by the passion of our staff,” Libraries Director Yoko Matsumoto said. “Their commitment to excellence makes a difference in so many lives. Our staff is one key ingredient as to why Libraries Matter.”Wyche said the new storytime is named for the Dr. Seuss quote, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”“I love this quote because I have seen so many people retreat, or feel less than because they are different,” Wyche said. “I want to celebrate our differences and help people realize they are beautiful human beings because they are so unique. I want children to get that they aren’t defined by their condition or different abilities. I want my patrons, all patrons, to see that they are born to stand out.”
Born to Stand Out
Don’t miss the next Born to Stand Out storytime!
10:30 a.m. Monday, April 3
Southwest Branch Library, 3311 S.W. Green Oaks Blvd.