The Philadelphia Zoo recently opened KidZooU, an autism-friendly indoor-outdoor wildlife academy where all the exhibits involving some 400 animals are hands-on and active. KidZooU was developed in consultation with the Kinney Center for Autism Support and Education at St. Joseph’s University.
Instead of watching animals from behind glass walls and fences, children get up close and personal – climbing alongside them, grooming them and playing games that teach them how to protect the environment for the animals.
The accommodations for special needs children at KidZooU don’t end with the exhibits. There are secluded quiet spaces for kids who need a break from the action; family restrooms that have adolescent-sized changing tables; interpretive signs with pictures, Braille and sign language for children who are non-verbal, and to make zoo outings more predictable, families can map out their visits for their children online using the same picture system displayed on the zoo signs.
“KidZooU is groundbreaking; they’re well ahead of their time,” said Michelle Rowe, executive director of the Kinney Center. She hopes other museums and zoos around the country will embrace KidZooU’s all-needs, multi-sensory concept.
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