After-hours event gives families with special needs their own space

By Katheryn Toren-Jones, Children’s Librarian at the Norwood Branch Library

Having a child always changes your perspective on life, as well as your family dynamic. Having a child with a disability can radically alter both. My son was diagnosed with autism in 2008 when I was about a year into my new career as a Librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. 

After I became the mother of a person with special needs, I started to see the world through a very different lens. Things that most of us take for granted can be filled with challenges and landmines for my son. And frankly, we hadn’t enjoyed going to the Library together since he was an infant for fear that his behavior would be too disruptive. While all of our Library locations and staff welcome all people, it soon became my professional goal to provide a time and space where families with special needs could relax and spend time together. 

So I got to work, pitching the idea of an after-hours event to my manager, who asked me to write a proposal for her manager. They agreed that it was an idea worth trying. That was 10 years ago. Over the past decade, I have continued to offer these events and can count on support from my colleagues. Several of our Librarians have offered the event annually at their respective locations. 

I distinctly recall attending a Family Night at the Deer Park Branch as a customer when my son was five years old. During the time we were there, the only thing that kept his interest was the urinal in the men’s restroom. I also recall the librarian being very sweet and accommodating. It was a wonderful feeling to enjoy the Library together in a stress-free environment. And no one was bothered by the flushing! 

Special Needs Family Night at the Norwood Branch Library is an event that many families look forward to all month. One of my regular families struggled with Library visits because as soon as their son is indoors, his shoes come off (been there!). Another child wanted to bang on a book cart with her hands repeatedly every time she visited. What an interesting and loud sound that’s made by tapping on that large metal surface! 

But at Family Night, instead of shushing or attempting to redirect the child, I was able to encourage her in using grip strength and fine motor skills. I handed her a small rubber mallet from our box of musical instruments and applauded when she gave it a try. Participants can be as loud as they want. They can participate in all of the activities or none. 

Speaking of activities, did I mention that we have a really good time at Family Night? We have something for everyone no matter what age or ability: crafts, games, bubble time, a light table, scavenger hunts, and sensory bins, not to mention fabulous volunteers. They are the best! Miss Liz is our music and movement teacher who lights up the room with her positive energy and talent. Miss Glenda is a big-hearted lady who graciously plays second fiddle to her therapy dog partner, Bonny. We are so grateful to these ladies for their time, commitment and openness in working with our community. 

Recently a first-time parent to one of our nights commented that she thought it was just the Library being open later for families to check out items. She had no idea about the activities we offered.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Michelle York of Norwood. She brought Braelynn, her 10-year-old daughter with autism, along with her son J.P. and niece Bella, both 8. All three got in on the action and had fun making crafts and playing with bubbles.

“I like the inclusion. It’s nice to have a place that allows your child to be who they are. Other families should definitely check it out,” she said.

Special Needs Family Nights are held at the Norwood Branch Library after hours from 6:30-8:00 p.m. the last Friday of every month. All ages and disabilities are welcome! The Norwood Branch is conveniently located off the Norwood Lateral at 4325 Montgomery Road and is wheelchair accessible. Call 513-369-6037 for more information.