Sacramento Public Library

Featured Staff: Janet Wininger

Veteran librarian runs our Autism programs—and is the mother of a 20-year-old with autism.
On May 2, Janet Wininger appeared on the News 10 television show Sac & Co. to talk about autism-friendly family events at Sacramento Public Library. A youth services librarian with 28 years in our system, Wininger started these programs three years ago.
She’s also “especially qualified”—because she’s also the mother of a “low-functioning” 20-year-old son with autism. But she said that she and her son have been lucky in some ways. Ian was diagnosed before he was 2, which was rare in the mid-1990s.
Sacramento has long been a hotbed of research and activism around autism. Soon after Ian’s diagnosis, Wininger joined a local support group called FEAT (Families for Early Autism Treatment). Some of the families in this group were involved in founding Sacramento’s MIND Institute in 1998.
In 2011, she began Sensory Storytimes to offer a welcoming place for children and teens on the autism spectrum. Visitors are warned: “Behaviors and/or noise are no problem.” More recently, she began offering Autism-Friendly Family Flicks—generally animated family films with “the lights slightly up, the sound slightly down.”
These programs can also help address the “isolation” some parents feel, Wininger said. One program she recently hosted included two families new to town.  
“It gets people out into the community and into the library,” Wininger said. “One kid screamed for 45 minutes, though. That was little hard. But these two moms were so grateful to be there.”
She has also taught an “Intro to Autism” class to Library staff, in order to give pointers on working with autistic patrons. Her next project is a series of “This is My Library” booklets about each branch.
“It’s something you can give you child ahead of time just to show them what the library is,” Wininger said. “It’s photo after photo of the particular branch, so they feel familiar with it.”

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