Posted on May 13, 2022
| 3:17 pm
Autism Safari Nights returns to the Santa Barbara Zoo starting May 26. (Courtesy photo)
The Santa Barbara Zoo recently renewed its commitment to welcome visitors with autism and those with sensory needs by completing the renovation of its Certified Autism Center (CAC). The zoo has received the designation, awarded by the International Council on Accreditation and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), since 2018.
The zoo has worked to meet renovation requirements as well as improve accessibility options.
JJ McLeod, director of education for the zoo, said: “The Santa Barbara Zoo prioritizes the care of our animals and the well-being of every guest and member of our community. We strive to create spaces that guests, staff, and volunteers can access, safe and inclusive experiences.
“Maintaining the status of our Certified Autism Center creates an ongoing commitment to neurodiversity best practices. We are grateful that IBCCES continues to be a part of our work on inclusion and access.”
Since becoming the first West Coast zoo to earn certification, the Santa Barbara Zoo has forged new links and partnerships with organizations that support the autism community. The zoo also offers sensory backpacks and provides quiet spaces for guests with sensory needs.
The zoo also offers a social narrative and other resources to help autistic guests and parents on its website. The zoo strives to host inclusive, accessible events that enable all individuals to participate and participate fully. To request accommodation or for inquiries about accessibility, email [email protected]
The zoo is also announcing the return of Autism Safari Nights, starting May 26, a social gathering for sensory-sensitive individuals and their families. Parents can connect with other parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, while children can choose from a variety of activities including a movie, reading corner, bounce house, and sensory activities.
Food and drinks, including beer and wine, are available for purchase. Events are free, but pre-registration is required. Free on-site child care is offered to children 18 and younger (including siblings), thanks to the UCSB Koegel Autism Center.
Parents also share their experiences about the benefits and need for these types of programs.
“I am the mum who burst into tears when she told me that the Santa Barbara Zoo is now autism certified and would be very happy to let my son join Zoo Camp,” said one mum.
“I must have sounded crazy at the time, but I’ve spent the past two weeks tirelessly calling every summer camp in town and shutting them all down,” she said. “But when you called, you were not only willing to take it but you were excited to receive it.
“Before Zoo Camp, my son had severe social anxiety, not the average shyness you see in preschool but legitimate anxiety. In the four short weeks he was at Zoo Camp, I saw him as a ‘normal’ kid for the first time.
“He says hello to strangers when we ask him without closing, he lets us leave him in the camp even without his support there, he responded to his advisors when they spoke to him, and even joined the time group for the first time in his life. With this little opportunity to practice his social skills, he is thriving now.”
“It has been a pleasure working with the dedicated and passionate team at the Santa Barbara Zoo, and we are thrilled to continue our long-standing partnership to ensure that all families have choices,” said Myron Bencombe, IBCCES Chairman.
For nearly 20 years, IBCCES has been a leader in cognitive disorders training and certification for healthcare, education, and corporate professionals. IBCCES has created special programs for hospitality and leisure establishments, such as hotels and amusement parks, so staff will be more knowledgeable and other accommodations can be offered to this part of the community.
IBCCES has also created AutismTravel.com, as a free online resource for parents that lists sites and certified professionals. Each organization listed on the site has met the requirements of an accredited autism center.