Brookfield Zoo is collaborating once again with Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, to take part in the annual Zoos Go Blue campaign, on Saturday, April 6. The event takes place at select Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited facilities across North America during World Autism Awareness Month. To commemorate the day, Brookfield Zoo’s iconic lion statues near its south gate will be clothed in blue scarves, and blue flags will adorn the park’s grounds.
“This day provides families who have children on the autism spectrum a fun and enjoyable day at Brookfield Zoo,” said Jennifer Baader, vice president of governmental affairs for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. “We are thrilled to partner with Autism Speaks again this year.”
Throughout the day, special Zoos Go Blue activities will be taking place for families with children on the autism spectrum. The zoo has also designated a quiet break area in the Discovery Center’s Founders Room for those who might be in need of some downtime during the day.
From 11:00 a.m. to noon, the Carousel will have a “quiet hour” with its music turned off. At 1:00 p.m., families can attend a sensory-friendly Dolphins in Action presentation with welcoming remarks from Colleen Shinn, director of community outreach-Midwest and South Central Regions for Autism Speaks. In addition, guests can attend special Zoo Chats to learn about some of the animal ambassadors. These informal talks take place at 11:00 a.m. in the Bramsen Animal Ambassador Pavilion and at 2:00 p.m. at Hamill Family Play Zoo.
The zoo also has several “care kits” that can be checked out on a first-come, first-served basis by families that include noise-reducing headphones, hard copies of visual schedules, autism stickers, and ID bracelets in case a child gets separated from his or her family.
In addition, to help families prepare for their visit, several adaptive tools may be downloaded from the zoo’s website at BrookfieldZoo.org/Accessibility. These tools include a visual schedule and a story about the zoo’s Living Coast exhibit that, through illustrations and written descriptions, can help prepare a child for what he or she will see and may feel during their visit.
“Autism Speaks is proud to continue its partnership with the Chicago Zoological Society for the Zoos Go Blue campaign,” said Shinn. “We’re honored to continue this important initiative with Brookfield Zoo and are grateful for their acknowledgement of World Autism Awareness Month. Brookfield Zoo is committed to helping raise awareness, understanding, and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder, not only through their celebration of the autism community on this special day, but through the accommodations and renovations, they are making at the zoo year-round. Autism Speaks is especially proud to continue to collaborate with other disability organizations through participation on the Zoo for All Advisory Board. We encourage and empower Brookfield Zoo to continue to support the autism community and those with other disabilities every day to make every family’s trip to the zoo a positive and inclusive one.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 59 children in the United States are on the autism spectrum. Autism spectrum disorders, some of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the country, are caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences, and are characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors.