Autism Safari Nights will begin next week as new initiative
J.J. McLeod must have a secret stash of energy somewhere, as the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Education Manager is in for one heck of a ride.
With the first of 10 weeks of summer camp getting underway this week, Ms. McLeod has also busily getting ready for tonight’s “Zoo-a-Palooza,” an after-hours party that helps kick off the summer with Chase and Skye of Nick Jr. stopping by for a visit from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The two characters will also be at the Zoo on Saturday and Sunday.
More than 3,500 people via the Zoo’s Facebook page have indicated that they are interested in tonight’s festivities, having already sold nearly 500 tickets in advance ($20 for adults, $14 per child; zoo members are $17 and $12, respectively).
It’s also the year anniversary of the Zoo becoming a certified autism center, something that Ms. McLeod is particularly proud of.
“We have made huge strides in our inclusion initiatives,” Ms. McLeod said. “We want this event to set the standard for all of our events – being sensory sensitive, but allow parents and kids to still interact.”
Ms. McLeod also applauded the zoo staff for embracing the hours of training it took to become a certified autism center.
“That’s part of our core values and mission, to not only enhance everyone’s experience, but also make sure we are inclusive,” Ms. McLeod said. “Not only is the staff taking care of wild animals, they all jumped on board with this initiative. It brought the zoo staff together.”
The work won’t stop today, as Ms. McLeod and her team are also focused on their first Autism Safari Nights, with the first night sold out Thursday. The Zoo plans to hold two more safari nights on July 25 and Aug. 22.
These nights will focus on allowing families to connect, albeit parents sharing tips and stories with one another, or kids (on and off the autism spectrum) to enjoy a night at the zoo. The night include movies, a reading corner, a bounce house and other sensory-friendly activities.
The zoo will also keep its gift shop open, allowing parents to buy specialty sensory backpacks (which include noise-canceling headphones).
“We’ve been working on this night for quite some time,” Ms. McLeod said. “You can share tips and it can be a support group, or not. You can just come and have dinner and drinks and not talk about autism. Maybe just simply meet new friends.”
Ms. McLeod explained that they’ve kept the safari nights intimate so that there isn’t sensory overload for anyone.
“We want this to be an engaging experience,” McLeod said.
If you’d like to sign up for a future safari night, visit the Zoo’s website at sbzoo.organd click on the events tab.