An Interview with Dr. James R. Wining (by Dr. Steve Albrecht)
My name is Jim Wining and I am a parent of an autistic person (AP). While my educational background says teacher and my work background says businessperson, my real life has been, since the birth of my oldest son in 1982, about autism. As a father, business owner, business executive, and pastor, my life has been all about listening to autistic persons and communicating with them with understanding and love for their differences.
Over the past thirty-eight years, I helped start and maintain Autism Outreach Fellowship at Lee’s Summit, Missouri, with the goal of providing the autistic community quarterly social events for their autistic family member. I have also directed a program in New Milford, Pennsylvania, piloting the employment opportunities for young autistic adults.
My wife and I started a program, which lasted over twenty years in Lone Jack, Missouri, known as “Show Time Llamas & Alpacas.” Its goal was to integrate the autistic child into the world with animals that smell good, feel soft, and quietly hum a relaxing sound. While these autistic children interacted with other “so-called normal children,” they became mutually socially compatible.
Finally, as President of Acts Ministry, I have taken the socialization of autistic persons to religious organizations who have been resistive or adversarial to autistic families. My goal in both Springfield and Independence, Missouri, and elsewhere has been to provide events to help the public become more aware and less fearful or antagonistic to autistic people who are receiving them and communicating in a different way.
Steve Albrecht asked me to put together some key points to help library staff interact and serve autistic persons. We will be presenting a webinar on this issue for Library 2.0 soon. Thank you for understanding these unique patrons in your libraries.
AUTISM AWARENESS: Some Triggers in the Library
From VeryWellhealth.com, “Anyone who meets the criteria for having autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will be further diagnosed as having ASD Level 1, ASD Level 2, or ASD Level 3, according to criteria outlined in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V), used by clinicians. These levels are based on a person's strengths and limitations in regards to their ability to communicate, adapt to new situations, expand beyond restricted interests, and manage daily life. They specifically indicate how much support an autistic person needs, with Level 1 meaning relatively little support is required; Level 2 meaning they need substantial support; and Level 3 indicating they need significant support (https://bit.ly/2L1CkwW).”
LIBRARIANS - Staff should not raise voice much above a whisper. The AP knows the voice level of a library probably better than the librarian, so if the librarian is unable to communicate with the AP immediately seek additional support and avoid repeating instructions or directions. Always be prepared for confinement even if the Guardian is present.
BRIGHT LIGHTS - These should be avoided as autistic persons (AP) may react either catatonically or violently.
TOUCH - If advised of germ possibilities on books, the AP will neither open nor be in an area with the books.
SMELL - Extreme odors, like with disinfectants, may result in screaming or a near meltdown.
DIRECTIONS - Try to avoid the “no” command. Go around it if the AP asks for a book and it is checked out answer this way, “The book will be available on a future date.” Try to avoid saying words of rejection such as, “The book is checked out and not available.”
RESTROOMS - This can be a source of extreme reaction including demands of cleanliness to disrupting the cleanliness of the restrooms. Try to avoid single rooms with private locking doors.
“MELTDOWN” - This is a last-ditch effort by AP to defend against a sensory attack, physical confrontation, and/or emotional event. A meltdown can include screaming, yelling, throwing objects, pounding his or her head against wall, tearing flesh from his or her body, and other physical and non-physical reactions to a perceived challenge
CONFINEMENT - This is a step taken by two or more people to restrict the actions of an AP during a time of Melt Down. The action involves forming a circle around the AP with your body and arms extended. Do not physically contact the AP but be prepared to be struck and to repel the attack. Do not administer physical restraint. The typical meltdown usually lasts 3 to 5 minutes but when aggravated or for some unknown reason can last up to 30 minutes. Eliminate public contact around the melt-down area and seek the Guardian’s advice or public service including fire and police personnel. Firefighters are usually better trained than police to handle such matters.
SOCIAL DISTANCING - Space is your ally. The 6-foot rule is perfect for seating, standing, and general movement in the library. Remember AP always have a difficulty with socialization.
CHECKING OUT MATERIALS - Don’t worry about eye contact but be careful not to take items from AP. Let AP voluntarily hand you the book, CD, etc. Ask him or her for his or her library card or the Guardian’s card. If the AP has reached without a card very calmly say, “The items will be right here in a visible, designated place and will be checked out to you when your card is presented.” Be careful to itemize these items especially if they are “no check-out items” as they could likely disappear. If the Guardian is not present send someone to find him or her.
LEAVING WITH MATERIALS WITHOUT CHECKING THEM OUT - If the AP is leaving with unauthorized material immediately contact the Guardian. If the Guardian has left the library and is outside, motion to him or her for assistance. Do not follow the AP.
AP RESTRICTIONS - AP should not be allowed to be in the library if he or she is required to have a Guardian for life decisions, including health and welfare matters. If the AP has, in your best estimation, “Diminished Authority,” a Guardian must be present at all times. Seek help from a library supervisor to take the course of action mentioned above.
VIOLENCE - Physical or verbal conflict can occur instantly, without an apparent warning. For AP, more frequently than not, verbal conflict results in self-inflicted physical violence to the AP self, not the perceived attacking party. If confinement fails within a 5-minute period or the violence escalates, withdraw and call for police or fire help. Always keep the public away from the AP.
DRINKING FOUNTAINS & REFRESHMENTS - Public drinking services are potential sites for a physical disruption and should be avoided. Limiting refreshments to water only is recommended. Other eating, drinking, or chewing items can be distracting to the AP and are a source of “fairness complaints,” which can escalate into a situation.
ADMISSION TO THE LIBRARY - You must be aware at all times of AP in the library. Therefore, require guests providing guardian services to notify staff upon entering. I strongly recommend that Guardians should be restricted to not more than 3 APs at a time. Look out for large numbers of group home members -- 5 to 10 APs with only one or two Guardians. This is a high-risk situation that could trigger multiple meltdowns at a time.
PARKING LOT - If possible, have someone regularly checking the parking lot for AP patrons. If you see an AP having problems in the parking lot, don’t let him or her into the library. Meet the Guardians at the main door and discuss their visit before anyone enters. You may want to postpone their visit, restrict their numbers, or only allow certain APs who are not an apparent danger. All library staff needs to monitor for behavioral concerns.
SAFETY FIRST - If a meltdown occurs, contain the incident, decide if you need to evacuate the area and then decide if you need to call your public safety professionals.
Very interesting article, thanks for putting it together. It has a lot of items that are 'damage control' type safety points. I am wondering if we could also have an article that would be able the best-practice of making a space AP-compatible or friendly. I know places like supermarkets sometimes have a 'low stimulation' time of the week where lights are dimmed, sound is contained. Has this been explored in library spaces, and is there any evidence that this increases safety for all concerned?
You will never be able to fully be aware of autistics in a public place. I can say that with 100% certainty, since I know my library didn't know that they had one autistic there 37.5 hours a week since the autistic herself didn't know until she was finally diagnosed in her 40s, after working for the library for about 15 years.That autistic is myself. If an autistic is doing their best to mask and appear neurotypical (which is not good for autistic mental health and leads to autistic burnout - that burnout is why I finally was able to be diagnosed, as the knowledge about how to spot intelligent female autistics wasn't there when I was growing up), and is a good enough actor to keep the mask up until they are in private and can be who they actually are, good luck spotting us.