IOWA CITY — The bright lights and hubbub of the Iowa City Public Library can be sensory overload for Eleanor Froh, a tall, 5-year-old girl who loves sidewalk chalk and Thomas the Tank Engine.
“She can’t handle it,” said Jennifer Young, Froh’s mother. “Her eyes are hypersensitive to the lights, and the people coming in and out can set off her autism.”
Eleanor prefers the cozy stacks of the Antelope Lending Library’s bookmobile, which parks once a week in front of the Iowa City house of her grandmother, Heather Young.
The bookmobile stop from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Wednesday through Aug. 16 is open to everyone, but Young provides outdoor sensory activities, including water balloons, sidewalk chalk and kinetic sand focused on children with autism.
“The Iowa City autism community is busting their butts to provide autism-friendly places for families, but that means one-time activities, at a specific time and place, which are usually before or after regular business hours, which equals inconvenience for my family,” Young said.
“The Sensory Stop will provide a different activity each week for kids and adults who choose to participate. No beginning time, no hard ending time. Just come and go as your family wants.”
Cassi Elton, Antelope founder and director, said she’s pleased to have a stop geared for families with autistic children. The bookmobile also has drawn other neighbors, like Betsy Klein, an artist who spotted the bookmobile signs two weeks ago and now is volunteering on Wednesdays.
D.C. Heinrich, 13, of Iowa City, volunteers in the bookmobile on Mondays and Wednesdays.
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“I check out books to people and organize books,” he said. “According to my parents, I’m good with kids.”
The Antelope Lending Library bookmobile has been serving Iowa City since 2013. The not-for-profit lends mostly donated books but gets grants to buy graphic novels and Spanish-language books, Elton said. The snug, wood-paneled pod, lit softly with skylights, was built in 1997 and has a retro vibe.
The Iowa City Public Library also launched a new bookmobile this spring to extend the library’s reach. The city coordinates with Elton to make sure there isn’t too much overlap in their stops, she said.
“One of the things I love about the bookmobile is it fosters a sense of community,” Elton said.
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