During Brookfield Zoo Autism Awareness Day, families were able to participate in Zoo Chats, informal talks with zookeepers and up-close views of the animals, including the polar bears. // (c) 2011 Chad Horwedel / Flickr.com
During Brookfield Zoo Autism Awareness Day, families were able to participate in Zoo Chats, informal talks with zookeepers and up-close views of the animals, including the polar bears. // (c) 2011 Chad Horwedel / Flickr.com

More than two million people in the United States suffer from autism. Last year one in 68 children were diagnosed on the autism spectrum, a number that has increased 30 percent in the last two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A recent study, however, has found that the presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder. In light of this data, Brookfield Zoo has launched a groundbreaking autism awareness pilot program.

During Brookfield Zoo Autism Awareness Day, families were able to participate in Zoo Chats, informal talks with zookeepers and up-close views of the animals, including the polar bears. // (c) 2011 Chad Horwedel /  Flickr.com
During Brookfield Zoo Autism Awareness Day, families were able to participate in Zoo Chats, informal talks with zookeepers and up-close views of the animals, including the polar bears. // (c) 2011 Chad Horwedel / Flickr.com

“We strive to foster an environment at Brookfield Zoo that is inclusive of everyone,” said Matthew Mayer, vice president of public affairs for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. “We are pleased to support families affected by autism by providing an opportunity to engage in a meaningful experience at the zoo.”

During the zoo’s recent Autism Awareness Day, families could participate in Zoo Chats, informal talks with zookeepers where guests could enjoy up-close views of many of the animals, including polar bears, a tamandua (a small anteater), snakes, and a red-tailed hawk.

On an ongoing basis, the zoo offers several adaptive tools for families with a member afflicted by autism. A visual schedule can be downloaded from the zoo’s website, prior to visiting, which can help prepare guests for what the visit will entail. Parents can also access a social story about the zoo’s Living Coast exhibit that, through illustrations and written descriptions, will help prepare children for what they will see and may feel when visiting buying levitra online safe that exhibit.

The zoo also provides BZ Care Kits, which can be checked out during a visit. These kits include noise-reducing headphones, hard copies of visual schedules, autism stickers, and safety alert badges and ID bracelets, in case a child gets separated from his or her family.

“Autism Speaks is thrilled to partner with Brookfield Zoo again this year on this wonderful initiative that provides families in our community a safe and autism friendly way to enjoy the zoo,” said Kerry Schlaack, executive director for Autism Speaks Chicagoland.

This is not the first time Brookfield Zoo has partnered with Autism Speaks In of 2013, the Society launched a program, the first of its kind, to offer social integration and zoo animal interactions, to gauge what, if any, role the zoo could play in supporting or even advancing the developmental milestones of early learners, specifically children between the ages of 3 and 6.

The groundbreaking project, which launched in partnership with Easter Seals Joliet, was based on two pieces of evidential research, which found that the presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder and that inclusive learning/experiential environments support the development of adaptive behaviors and communication.

The project demonstrated considerable promise in significantly improving the lives of those affected by autism. Based on feedback from parents, Easter Seals therapists, and the Society’s education staff, the zoo hopes to transition the pilot project to a permanent program in the near future.

“We want to redefine the role that accredited zoos play in supporting the developmental needs of children with autism,” said Mayer. “Our goal is to build an inclusive conservation movement while enriching the lives of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.”

Brookfield Zoo
www.CZS.org