One zoo, two children, and… a clock

We visited the local zoo today; the first time for both of our children. I finally felt my 5 year-old autistic son would be able to handle the newness, the long walk, and take joy in the experience. (Plus a kind friend had given us a discount voucher, so it wasn’t going to be expensive.)

We arrived early in the day to avoid the anxiety our son would have felt waiting in line. My husband carried / kept an eye on our 1 year-old toddler, and I was largely responsible for shepherding the 5 year-old through the experience.

I’d pre-planned a circuit that meant we’d be able to make a reasonable exit if my son started having a meltdown, this was a good idea because half way around the first loop he decided it was time to go home. I used a tactic of sadly saying good-bye to each animal we passed to try to peak his interest again. That worked for a few animals, but he figured out what I was doing and not even the kiwis and tuataras could get him to swerve off his exit-path.

We did get to see some fantastic animals before he started getting upset. He particularly loved the lions and cheetahs. The elephant bored him to the extent that he barely looked at it even though it was close to the fence. Instead he and his brother were fixated with the bamboo fencing around a tree in front of the elephant inclosure, “bamboo, bamboo!” *sigh*

On the way out, he spotted a clock on a wall, and forgot he was desperate to leave for a while. He pointed at it and talked about it, and didn’t want to leave it. That was one loved-up clock.

Once we got out the front gate, I asked him if he had fun, and he said yes. By the time we were half way down the road from the zoo, he was asking to go back again, so I guess that counts as a success!

I, for one, loved it. My favourite animal was the cheetah this time round, particularly because of how close you could get to it; a truly beautiful animal. The photos with this post are ones I managed to take today, to help entice my eldest back in (hopefully the near) future 🙂

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6 Responses to One zoo, two children, and… a clock

  1. Jenny says:

    Sounds like success to me! I am impressed you got a “yes” reply to the “Did you have fun?” question. My son often says “no” because he’s upset the fun had to end.

    • We love every “yes” we get from our son; he didn’t use the word until he was almost five! Before that, confirmation always came in the form of either silence or echolalia of what we were asking him. Of course, silence and echolalia of a phrase mean lots of things other than “yes” too, so the breakthrough of using that word was a big deal.

      (In comparison, our 13 month old already competently and correctly uses the word “yes”.)

  2. KDL says:

    I love going to our local zoo – except that there are carnival rides there and my daughter prefers them to the animals, and they cost extra. We usually go about once a year. Some friends are members and they give us a free pass sometimes, which covers all but one kid’s entry. Bravo for a big first zoo trip, and here’s hoping for many more!

  3. John Russell says:

    Hi, great article, thanks for sharing your experiences!

    I spend my time straddling the two worlds that you are writing about here- part-time on a zoo education staff, part-time as an ABA. Right now, I’m working on resources at the zoo for parents of children with autism. Could I ask what you, as an autism mom, would find useful in bringing your son to the zoo?

    Thanks for your time!

    • Thanks John!

      Those are two very interesting occupations you have there.

      Ideas that come to mind for making zoo visits easier for families with autistic children are: being able to skip queues – including at any food outlets or special attractions (and therefore avoid meltdowns that make you leave before you get in the door); maps being provided both before and after entry, so parents acn plan out the physical route in advance and let the child know where they’re going to lower anxieties; perhaps make a social story about zoo visits available to the families in advance, including photos of the actual entry gate and main attractions, making sure it includes an ending where the child goes home (perhaps too expensive to implement and target, but would have been great!); perhaps some “time-out” areas within zoo grounds where the children can decompress if there is too much sensory input going on or a meltdown is building up – somewhere quiet and soothing. I’ll give it some further thought too, but I hope some of those ideas help. I really appreciate you asking 🙂

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