Sensory tours are now being offered at a family owned zoo in Forney. The tour is tailored for children with autism and sensory issues.
"We added it back in March. We added it because we were noticing a lot of adults and children on the autism spectrum coming out and visiting the zoo." owner Rod Deisler said.
Management at the zoo teamed up with a therapist to create extra stimulatory activities in sensory boxes.
"We created a sensory tour with boxes with different activities that would meet all areas- sensory areas. So different areas for them to see and feel and hear." Lisa Werner with The Gentle Zoo said.
The boxes are spread throughout different exhibits at the zoo, promoting interactions between the animal and the child to stimulate imaginative play.
One of the box favorites is the one by the kangaroo. There children can put on sacks for sack races. They can also put on kangaroo tails and hop around like a kangaroo. The box also has other exotic animal tails for the kids to put on as well.
There are also instances where children can interact with the animals. Feed is available for two dollars to feed the chickens, goats, and pigs. A capybara - which looks like a giant guinea pig - can be fed as well, a Coati-mundi, or South American raccoon is sometimes placed on a harness, and children can crawl around in the tortoise exhibit with a shell on their back.
The Gentle Zoo is one of the only places in the area with a program like this. The zoo wanted to create a place where any parent with an autistic children, or children in general can come and be comfortable. The staff has been trained to provide a safe environment. They are also trained to recognize the signs of a meltdown and assist when necessary.
"All three of my boys are very different. For a very long time we couldn't take our kids out at all. Because it was so overstimulating they would just completely melt down so we felt like prisoners in our home so to speak." Werner said.
If a child gets over or under stimulated there are quiet areas where families can go to self soothe, headsets for audio sensitivity, and sensory bottles to help a child calm down.
The sensory tour is included with the general admission cost of $6 per person.
The zoo is open 7 days a week:
- M-F 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
- Family night out Fri. 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
- Sat. 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
- Kid'z nite out Sat. 7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
- Sun. 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The hours will change later this year when the pumpkin patch opens.