Zoo staff participates in Michigan Autism Safety Training

ROYAL OAK, Mich., June 30, 2014 – The Detroit Zoo is taking another step in its effort to accommodate diverse audiences by offering a visual guide for guests with autism. The online guide­ – which helps set expectations for animal habitats, rides, attractions and other experiences at the Zoo – was prepared in collaboration with the Autism Alliance of Michigan.

The 31-page downloadable guide, called "The Zoo and Autism", provides information about the Detroit Zoo experience along with pictures and fun facts. The narrative also advises individuals with autism about certain characteristics of the habitats and attractions that might concern them – for example, unfamiliar sights and sounds or proximity to free-ranging animals – and provides guidance on how to respond.

According to Stacie Rulison, secretary of the Michigan Autism Council and author of the guide, the images that accompany the narrative are intended to reinforce the visual learning aspect of individuals with autism.

"Visual aids are beneficial in that many individuals with autism have difficulty with communication and may use visuals as a primary or supplemental communication method," said Rulison. "Visuals communicate a level of expectation and routine for a social outing and assist in acclimating or mediating unknown or potentially unpredictable or stressful situations."

In addition to the visual guide, all full- and part-time Detroit Zoo staff and seasonal employees as well as 90 individuals from 32 local public safety and social services agencies attended Michigan Autism Safety Training at the Zoo. The training covered the do's and don'ts of working with guests with autism as well as tips on how to assist the guests' caregivers.

"We want all of our guests to have the best possible zoo experience, so we have been working through a series of initiatives addressing the needs of various audiences to make that happen," said Alexis Means, Guest Relations Director for the Detroit Zoological Society. "This is part of our effort to make the Detroit Zoo great in every ways for many audiences."

To download the visual guide and view other special-needs accommodations at the Detroit Zoo, visit http://www.detroitzoo.org/Plan/special-needs.html.