Zoos from Philadelphia to Detroit have embraced opportunities to serve their communities, which include people with special needs and those on the Autism Spectrum. Zoos Go Blue for Autism is one noted popular event serving those with the developmental disorder. Although a visit to the wild offers its own therapeutic benefits, an up close and intimate encounter with a living, breathing animal in a zoo setting has a remarkable impact on young people with autism. No other venue can replace such an experience for these people with developmental challenges. Zoos are exceptionally poised to benefit autistic children because of the unique encounters they offer their patrons.
A couple of years ago Autism Speaks, a leading advocacy organization partnered with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) to raise awareness for autism at more than 30 of its North American zoological facilities. They not only made a concerted effort to make the facilities autism friendly in a physical or experiential sense, but they trained staff and volunteers on how to interact with autistic children.
Research published in leading pediatric journals indicates that interactions with domestic animals, including companion canids, felids and equids, enhance social skills of children afflicted with autism. The unconditional love and companionship provided by pets probably contribute to this and explain why companion animals have been increasingly integrated into therapy programs for autistic children in recent years.
Hopefully, zoos and aquariums will continue to support events and programs aimed at not only helping kids with autism, but for raising awareness for this pervasive developmental condition.
Noted animal science professor, popular author and autistic Temple Grandin likens the way animals think to that of how autistic people think. Hence, such similarities, including associative learning may confer autistics an ability to read animals particularly well. Grandin certainly encourages autistic people to pursue animal related careers, particularly animal training.
ZooNation encourages more zoos and aquariums to host events for autistic people and to make their facilities autism friendly. These natural history venues have the capacity to help people with special needs in unprecedented ways.
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting an institution dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. For more information, please visit www.aza.org.
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated one in 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 78 percent increase in six years that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.
About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Mr. Wright is the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has committed more than $195 million to research and developing innovative resources for families. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 100 cities across North America. On the global front, Autism Speaks has established partnerships and related activities in more than 40 countries on five continents to foster international research, services and awareness. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit http://www.AutismSpeaks.org.