A New Approach to Bouncing Balls

This post comes with a preface, a caveat. I am early in this process but it’s what has occupied my mind lately so I’m sharing not just to let you all know what I’ve been ruminating on, but also to solicit your discoveries and successes.

We’ve hired several new administrators this year, and my wonderful Learning Support Specialist colleague asked each of them questions about how they would support and work with our neurodivergent students–academically (for our Academic Dean position), in disciplinary contexts (for our Dean of Students position), and holistically. The questions and the ensuing answers had me thinking more about what I can do from our US library to support these students, which, at our school primarily includes ADHD and some ASD.

Of course, the easy place was to start with books, both for our students and our faculty. I updated and added some titles to our collection, some with an eye towards informal professional development for faculty, including these:

Others, I ordered or noted in our collection as good mirror books for our students, like these:

Given that many more of our students use the library as a space than to check out books, I next considered how I can make the library space more inclusive and productive for students. In looking into ways to support our older students, given that much of my early searching focused on items for little kids, I came across an emerging trend in college and university libraries for sensory rooms. After exploring what those spaces offered, and talking with our Learning Support folks more, here are some things I’ve adopted or am planning to have in place for next year.

  • One option I’m seeking funding for is some alternative seating. Particularly the covered exercise ball chairs that are as sturdy as furniture but allow for students to bounce and wiggle quietly and discreetly.
  • Soothing items: I’m eyeing up a desktop zen garden, but in the meantime I have a handful of lava lamp-esque bubble timers that are super calming.
  • Fidgets: I regularly purchase give-away items during exams that are stress relievers, but lately I’ve switched to ones that work as fidget items as well. Pop bracelets were a hit last year. This year I’ve acquired these squishy pencil grips that double as “ooh, free thing!” and sensory fidget for the students that may need that.
  • Noise-reducing earmuffs–while most students who want to tune things out seem to opt for music and their own headphones, I have a few noise reducing earmuffs they can check out for kids who really do want quiet while they work.
  • Pencils! Ok, this is a bit different than the other things on my list, but for kids with ADHD materials management can be HARD. On each level of my library I have a cup of pre-sharpened pencils that I buy in bulk and refill as needed.

One thing I aim for with these items is that they aren’t specifically for neurodivergent students. They are useful or fun for any student. That also means that the kids who might get a particular boost from them don’t need to feel visible or singled out for having them.

Already, I can feel the small but important shifts that come from taking a different perspective. Last week a ninth grader came in to the library with a soccer ball (again) and started tossing it from one hand to the other and rolling it back and forth across the table and I could see that it was going to be a problem. I have a tidy collection of tennis, lacrosse, ping pong, and other balls that I’ve collected of late as students just can’t keep still or resist bouncing/tossing/playing with them inside. But this time, as I got ready to head over to take the ball or have him put it away I took a deep breath, and told myself that he might not even realize what he’s doing. So, before I headed his way I ducked into my office and grabbed a pop bracelet. Now, when I headed over I simply set the bracelet down in front of him and said, “here’s a better thing to fidget with.” He stopped messing with the ball and I felt a lot more positive about the interaction. I suspect he did too. And that’s the culture I want our library to be about.

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