It’s no secret that children love animals, particularly those that are found in zoos. And for those on the autism spectrum, this affinity for zoo animals is seemingly compounded due to the comfort and respite they provide. Some zoos have taken notice, even offering special programs specifically geared towards those with autism, making their zoo experiences more enjoyable in the process.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that demonstrates the benefits of animals for those with autism and other related conditions, and there are even some studies confirming this fact.
Karin Winegar, author of “Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform,” has addressed this phenomenon and was previously quoted in a New York Times article, stating:
“The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can …We’ve seen this from coast to coast, whether it’s disabled children at a riding center in California or a nursing home in Minnesota, where a woman with Alzheimer’s could not recognize her husband but she could recognize their beloved dog.”Temple Grandin is another example of how one’s connection to animals can impact lives. Diagnosed with severe autism as a child, Grandin found her passion in animals and animal science, eventually going on to transform the slaughterhouse industry, which now affects the way livestock animals are treated this very day.
As one of our other authors previously noted, our worldview of autism is often shaped by our own personal experiences. With this in mind, there are few things in the past six years of our autism journey that stand out more than the frequent trips to our local zoo. It was during those times when our son’s condition and symptoms seemed to miraculously vanish as he became enthralled and captivated by the world around him. As zoo members and annual passholders, our visits became near-weekly occurrences, with each trip providing something new and different for my child each time.
As the years progressed, our son became increasingly interested in animals, eventually able to identify complex animal names and species classifications. His uncanny ability to identify and classify even the most obscure of animals is something that would impress even the most seasoned zoologist.
Zoos can be therapeutic for many children on the autism spectrum and unlock something unique inside a child. If you have yet to experience the joys of a zoo outing, take the time and plan a trip. You just may discover something new about your child and find out that you have the next Jack Hanna on your hands.