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Autism-friendly Library
Calexico Camarena Memorial Library director Lizeth Legaspi (seated) greets children at Camarena Memorial Library. The library reopens to limited visitations on Aug. 2. | FILE PHOTO

Calexico’s Camarena Library Hosts Autism-Friendly Event

CALEXICO — The regular Friday closing hours saw many of the Calexico Camarena Memorial Library’s employees out the door and onto their weekend. However, for acting city librarian Lizeth Legaspi and county autism spectrum coordinator Rosie Ramos, a special event was about to begin.

“Our ‘On the Spectrum Story Hour’ isn’t just for children on the spectrum,” said Ramos. “We actually like the idea of the children meeting each other and getting to know one another, without a barrier or stigma.”

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The event saw a good turnout on Feb. 21 and was the fourth such local gathering to date. The program has already held story hours in Imperial, Heber, and Brawley, with events scheduled in El Centro on Feb. 22 and Calipatria on Feb. 29.

“That’s just for this month,” interjected Legaspi on the dates. “We’re making this a monthly program for at least six more months to come, and the dates for upcoming events will be announced through Facebook and other social media.”

The hour started off when Ramos introduced herself to the children and the parents. Shortly after, she read a story to the kids and followed it up by asking them about their favorite parts and experiences within the story’s subject matter.

“Despite being open to everyone, we’re obviously taking into consideration the needs of those on the spectrum,” said Ramos. “We’ve set up the schedule in a non-restrictive way.”

She added, “After the initial story I read, which only takes a few minutes, we open the floor to them. We’ve set up activities throughout the library such as crafts, physical activities, and toys which, of course, are all sensory-friendly.”

The focus is on the parents as much as the children, Legaspi explained.

“I think that one of the most important parts of this program is the social aspect,” she said. “We really want to provide parents with an avenue in which they can count on their kids meeting new friends, and socialize, in an environment that’s friendly to their needs.”

Shyness wasn’t prevalent at this particular story hour, as right after the initial story the kids made fast friends with each other. This saw groups of energetic participants rushing off to the various stations that had been set up by staff around the library hours prior.

“The response for the program has been very welcome,” said Legaspi. “We had a similar event last year, ‘Autism Awareness Family night’ and we decided to send out flyers to all those who participated in that as well.”

The event turn outs are also demonstrating the need to promote them, Legaspi added.

“We received a warm response on social media, as we got a good amount of exposure and interaction. We will continue to reach out to the community, such as the local public schools, and other places where kids on the spectrum may need attention to their needs,” she said.

This story is featured in the Feb 27, 2020 e-Edition.

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