HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg Zoo recognized World Autism Awareness Day by offering a sensory-friendly environment for everyone to enjoy on Tuesday.
Zoo Outreach Coordinator Laura Leggett said they did everything could to make the everyone feel welcomed.
“We’ve cut all the music off,” said Leggett. “The splash pad is off. We’ve got some extra little activities going on to really make everybody feel welcomed today.”
The zoo offered sensory-friendly activities such as quiet train rides and animal encounters with reduced sound volumes in exhibits.
Zoo officials said this was to recognize those living with some form of autism.
School teachers such as Michelle Magee with Sumrall Elementary School said when it comes to working with children living with the disorder, it can be difficult to include them in certain activities.
“Sometime the noises are startling to them and because of the sensory issues they can have meltdowns or they can just be withdrawn,” said Magee. “It’s helpful to have not so much going on at one time.”
In observance of Autism Awareness Day, the zoo’s sculpture of Hattie the elephant was decorated in blue, and brightly colored blue animal enrichment objects were placed in the exhibits.
“I became aware that a lot of families find venues like ours inaccessible and I took that very personally,” said Leggett. “I love our zoo and I want to make sure everyone feels welcomed here.”
The Hattiesburg Zoo is the first attraction/destination in the state certified as sensory inclusive.
Sensory bags, equipped with noise canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads are available for free to all guests inside the Guest Services office any time during the year.
Team members are also trained to recognize guests with sensory needs and how to properly handle sensory overload situations