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Chapel Hill Public Library's Neurodiversity and Nature initiative creates inclusive, adaptive spaces


The Chapel Hill Public Library pictured on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

The Chapel Hill Public Library’s Neurodiversity and Nature initiative is providing neurodivergent youth and adults with sensory learning activities this summer. 

The initiative, which launched in March, began when the library received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in 2022. Now, the initiative connects the library and the community it serves with sensory-specific tools and activities.

This grant provided Chapel Hill Public Library with funding to create the sensory kits and implement sensory furniture and start a sensory garden, Hannah Olson, the library's marketing and communications coordinator, said. 

“We have been getting good circulation on the kits, so people have been checking them out, using them, they’re excited about them,” she said. 

The library held its first sensory storytime in June, which the library will continue to offer every month, Krystal Black, the library's youth and family outreach coordinator, said.

“I did get some very positive feedback from one of the families who stuck around to let me know that it was something that they really enjoyed,” she said. “They saw that their daughter had a good time and it was something they were going to come to as much as they could.”

Black said the library’s regular early literacy storytimes are very popular and they can sometimes be crowded, loud and chaotic. 

“Families who have kids who are neurodivergent might not feel like that’s the best match for what they need,” she said. 

Osly Galobardi, a local clinical mental health counselor, said a lot of neurodivergent people like to stim in overwhelming or overstimulating environments. She said stimming is a repetitive behavior that is usually self-soothing. 

“It also increases self-awareness skills and just teaching them about their own bodies, and what sort of sensory things they enjoy versus sensory things they might not enjoy,” she said. “Just building that self-awareness so that they could be mindful of that wherever they go, basically.”

She said sensory activities like the library sensory kits, are healthy activities for neurodivergent children to use to be more stimulated and prevent them from using maladaptive forms of stimming such as skin picking or self-harm. 

“Certain textures and movements can be self-soothing, especially in an unknown environment that they’re not accustomed to,” Galobardi said. 

Galobardi said learning to accommodate an environment so that it’s not so overstimulating for the child goes a long way. 

Black said it’s important to get input from the neurodivergent community when creating initiatives like Neurodiversity and Nature. 

“We did work with a number of folks on the sensory kits, specifically the youth and family sensory kits,” she said. “We worked with Autism Society of North Carolina and we also worked with someone at UNC who works in the special education field.”

She said the process was a mix of learning by reading and reaching out to community partners to get feedback. 

“I think we’ve learned a lot, and we still have a lot more to learn,” she said. 

Olson said part of the grant funding for the program included an audit from the Autism Society of North Carolina, which included suggestions to improve accessibility. 

She said the library is hoping to improve its signage to make it more obvious where visitors should go when they come in and clearly marking spaces as quiet spaces, talking spaces and spaces for kids. 

“We really want everyone to feel welcome when they come into the library because we believe there is something for everyone here,” she said. 


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Lucy Marques

Lucy Marques is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She was previously a city & state senior writer. Lucy is a junior pursuing a double major in political science and Hispanic literatures and cultures.

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