Fox River Valley Library District creating sensory backpacks that children -- and parents -- can check out

Monica Boyer, FRVPLD Youth Services Manager

The backpacks soon be available to be checked out at Fox River Valley Public Library District branches aren't filled with your run-of-the-mill school supplies. They contain things like weighted lap pads, noise-reducing headphones and toys which help children be focused, calm and in control of their emotions. They're known as sensory backpacks and are geared toward those with sensory sensitivities, said Monica Boyer, Fox River Valley's youth services manager. "We're seeing an uptick in children who have sensory needs so we thought this was the perfect demographic," Boyer said.

The backpacks will be available at both library locations in East Dundee beginning in mid-November.

"(The items are) in a backpack that any child would carry in order to not make it look distinctive and so children feel comfortable checking out these items and not have a stigma attached," Boyer said. One of the items they'll find inside is a battery-operated flexible, vibrating snake. According to the manufacturer, using vibration helps a child understand where they and that their body parts are in a space, thus assisting in coordination and balance.

The library district's sensory tools are not just for children diagnosed with sensory needs but can be used by any child in almost any setting, officials said. A guide will circulate with the backpacks with information on how to use the featured items.

The initiative also allows parents to have their children test out the items before they decide to purchase something.

"They might find something will work out well for the long term," library Director Lauren Rosenthal said. "This gives them the chance to 'try it before you buy it.'"

Accommodating those with sensory needs has been on the district's radar for some time, she said. "Our libraries also do specialty programming for kids on the spectrum so this equipment works in conjunction with our library programs as well," Rosenthal said.

The Toddler Touch and Play program, for instance, invites children ages 1 to 3 a chance to explore sensory activities with a caregiver. Those ages 3 to 10 are invited to move, groove and interact in the Perspective Play program. Led by Behavioral Perspective, the program is designed for children with autism and others who may benefit from positive sensory interactions. "Inclusivity is important to us," Boyer said

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