Dallas Zoo hosts special day for individuals with autism

IMG_6789-Connect MagazineIn honor of April’s Autism Awareness Month, we’re hosting a special day Sunday, April 24, from 8-11 a.m. for individuals with autism, their families, and anyone who may benefit from a sensory-friendly experience. *Update: Registration for this event has closed. 

Designed with autistic needs in mind, experiences at the zoo will include a sensory activity tour featuring hands-on activities focused on primates, reptiles, and invertebrates. Modifications around the zoo will include sound adjustments and quiet zones to create an enjoyable environment.

Adding extra consideration, Education staff will send families a “social story” one week prior to Sensory-Friendly Day, which includes photos and captions outlining their upcoming day at the zoo. Participants also will receive a parent tip sheet with suggested items to bring, and specific details on the event.

“Animal encounters have proven to reduce social stress in people with autism, and we know our zoo can be that unique outlet for these individuals,” said Marti Copeland, Dallas Zoo’s director of Education. “We’re preparing our participants a week in advance for activities they can expect – we want them to be successful in this special day.”

We’re teaming up with Dr. Tina Fletcher, Ph.D., OT, of Texas Woman’s University School of Occupational Therapy to provide training to all zoo staff and to help with activities the day of the event. Dr. Fletcher is committed to improving access to cultural arts and entertainment venues for children with special needs and their families.

“When we all work together to provide children and their families with an exciting, meaningful, and sensory-friendly experience, they have an opportunity to participate in a great community event while enriching their quality of life,” said Fletcher, who will attend Sensory-Friendly Day with her team of occupational therapy students.

Admission for participants is only $5 and free for zoo members. (Guests are welcome to stay all day in the park.) Sensory-friendly activities in ZooNorth include frog slime creation; making animal prints in kinetic sand; a rainforest smelling activity; animal pelt matching; drawing station; and a nature-themed bingo game.

Quiet zones, located in the zoo’s auditorium and across from Primate Place, will include darker lighting, bean bags and blankets.

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