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Wednesday, February 7 • 8:30am - 10:00am
Session 1.2B - Juried Papers: Cyberbullying, Digital Citizenship, and Youth with Autism: Global LIS Education as a Piece in the Puzzle.

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In the United States, autism is the fastest growing disability with most current estimates of 1 in 68 children identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (CDC, 2016), and close to 1 in 160 children worldwide have autism (WHO, 2017). Youth with ASD often have social, developmental, and communication difficulties that pose challenges for engaging in common everyday activities such as going online (Orsmond & Kuo, 2011). Currently, research on the provision of library services to youth with ASD is limited, made up of a few practitioner books and similar guides for special needs youth programming (Farmer, 2013; Klipper 2014). As the diagnosis of ASD is becoming more prevalent, there is an increased urgency for the development of library services that aid in the intellectual, emotional, and psychological needs of youth with ASD.
This study offers one of the first empirical observations to contribute to the field regarding how librarians can better serve digital youth with ASD. We conducted virtual, semi-structured interviews with 15 librarians from across North America currently working with ASD youth over a period of three months. During analysis, we discovered areas that have the potential to be included in MLIS curriculum. These areas are supported by insights gathered during the interviews from participating librarians. Some of these insights include needed guidance on collaboration with schools and school ASD curriculum development, growing demands for more tailored special needs youth programming, information literacy skills for the digital environment, and approaches to conducting outreach to social service agencies and youth organizations.
Previous exploratory research has shown that young adults with ASD do use libraries, even discussing them in online environments with other ASD youth (Anderson, 2016). In this research, we investigate how librarians might address a crucial information literacy need for members of this population, and examines the ways in which librarians, through library services and empathy, can help prevent cyberbullying among young adults with ASD and support those who experience cyberbullying. Empathetic services, “structured activities carried out one-on-one or in groups and everyday unstructured interactions in which the role of the librarian is to provide social, emotional, and psychological support”, are essential when considering services to youth with special needs (Phillips, 2016, pp.17).
Librarians as community resources. Librarians are one community resource that has received scant research attention in this area, though more work is beginning conducted. As information literacy advocates and digital citizenship instructors, librarians provide youth with resources and programming on ethical and responsible online behavior (Phillips, 2014). For some youth, the library acts as a safe and relaxing environment, separate from oftentimes overwhelming school and home lives (Morris, 2013).
Librarians are questioning how to meet the burgeoning needs of a digital public. And, while doing so, discovering gaps in MLIS curriculum. One of these gaps is a lack of training and education on supporting special needs youth. In our research, we’ve focused specifically on youth with ASD as a population of interest. As one participant stated, “I think it’s so important, and I think this is an area that’s really untapped by libraries.” There has been a slow increase in inclusive library programming and outreach children and youth with ASD. During an interview, another participant, Rachel, discussed developing sensory programing including storytimes and in-house accessibility training for library staff. Sensory storytimes and similar programming not only show that the library is responsive to needs of autistic children, but also provides literacy and communication tools that support lifelong learning and social engagement (Cottrell, 2016). However, library services for older youth with ASD (ages 12-18) are often neglected. Many of the librarians we interviewed are in the early stages of creating programming for teenaged youth. While it is critical to provide educative materials and programming as early intervention for children with autism, these children become teenagers who still deserve programming and services that support their needs.
Youth with ASD and social media. Teens with ASD are no different from peers in that they seek out social media platforms for support, understanding, and information seeking (Davidson, 2008). Kuo and colleagues report “that adolescents with ASD who used computers for social purposes reported more positive friendships than those who used computers for other purposes. Notably, peers were the companions with whom adolescents with ASD most frequently engaged in these computer activities” (Kuo, Orsmond, Coster, & Cohn, 2013, p. 922). Yet this growth in social media use opens up a potential for cyberharassment, specifically cyberbullying (Network of Autism Training and Technical Assistance Programs, 2017).
Implications for LIS educators. LIS researchers and educators can contribute to the preparation of future librarians in helping youth with ASD, particularly considering information literacy and digital citizenship. From a global perspective, though the interviews conducted are with librarians in North America, autism has an international reach and findings are relevant to educators in MLIS programs worldwide. LIS educators have long provided guidance for outreach to underserved populations, youth advocacy, and special needs program development. Our findings suggest that a combination of education and empathy work is needed for young librarians to feel prepared to support youth on the autism spectrum in the library. Finally, this paper will encourage further discussion regarding MLIS course development focusing on services for ASD youth, online participation, and digital citizenship.
Anderson, A.M. (2016). Wrong planet, right library: College students with autism spectrum disorder and the academic library (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1806821474).
Center for Disease Control. (2016, June 11). Facts about ASD. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html
Cottrell, M. (2016, March 1). Storytime for the Spectrum. Retrieved from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2016/03/01/sensory-storytime-spectrum-libraries-add-services-for-children-with-autism/
Davidson, J. (2008). Autistic culture online: Virtual communication and cultural expression on the spectrum. Social & Cultural Geography, 9(7), 791–806.
Farmer, L. S. (2013). Library services for youth with autism spectrum disorders. American Library Association.
Klipper, B. (2014). Programming for children and teens with autism spectrum disorder. ALA Editions.
Morris, R. (2013). “Library support for students facing tough times: Resources and stories.” School Library Monthly 30(1): 17–19.
Network of Autism Training and Technical Assistance Programs (2017). Bullying and students on the autism spectrum. Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/bullying-and-students-on-the-autism-spectrum
Orsmond, G. I., & Kuo, H.-Y. (2011). The daily lives of adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder: Discretionary time use and activity partners. Autism, 15(5), 579–599. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361310386503
Phillips, A. (2014). More than just books: Librarians as a source of support for cyberbullied young adults. Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, 4(1).
Phillips, A. (2016). The empathetic librarian: Rural librarians as a source of support for rural cyberbullied young adults  (Doctoral dissertation, Florida State University).
World Health Organization. (2017). Autism spectrum disorders. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/autism-spectrum-disorders/en/

Wednesday February 7, 2018 8:30am - 10:00am MST
Meadowbrook I