Outings and Autism: The Zoo

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Article first published as Outings with Autism: The Zoo on Technorati.Boys at the San Francisco Zoo, and stranger in the backgroundFinding things to do with your family when you have a child on the Spectrum can be a daunting task. You want to find a good place that will keep their interest, while keeping the number of people to a minimum to control any meltdowns. During the summer there are quite a few parks to visit, but winter time can be a little different. So where do you go?One place that we as a family have found to be perfect during the winter time is the Zoo. During the summer time it can be a bear, as there are so many people that go. But during the winter time the zoo has few visitors, making the experience less stressful for our kids. This last visit our youngest started naming some of the animals, which was awesome.At Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, there are several exhibits that are worth attending. First, the Elephant Encounter is always popular, and well built. You can see the animals from less crowded spots that are still shady in the summer and somewhat sunny in winter. Next is the Highland Terrace exhibit, which houses the tigers, snow leopard, leopard, pallas cat and the lynxes (three brothers). There is also the carousel that is a favorite, kiddie play land with train ride (a staple at the Zoo for as long as I can remember), and opening this summer the new Rocky Shores exhibit.But don't think it's just the zoo in Salt Lake City that we enjoy! Our second favorite zoo that the kids enjoy is the San Francisco Zoo. The price is right, it's part of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, so as members of Hogle Zoo we get a discount on admission there. It's just a little larger than Hogle Zoo, and has plenty to do. If you are in San Francisco you probably already know about the zoo, but if you are visiting and want to avoid a lot of the crowds and tourists, visit the Zoo.In San Diego, we visit Sea World, and if you avoid the shows, you can have a very Autism-friendly experience. In fact, I highly recommend you get into the park early (before it officially opens), and head over to the "Breakfast with Shamu" area, where you can see the killer whale pod swimming in their large holding tank, no show. Our kids would have stayed for hours if they could just to watch the killer whales. Other great exhibits are the Shark exhibit, the penguin exhibit, the Arctic exhibit (take the non-motion ride, because you have a place to sit if the kids need a break), and the tide pool exhibit. The Ray exhibit should be reopening soon, which is also a very popular place, though I will reserve judgement after I see the remodel. The only drawback of Seaworld is timing your meals to coincide with the show next door, and not after (it gets almost unbearably busy). If you get the meal deal there, you can eat as many times as you like. Just KEEP YOUR KIDS WRISTBANDS ON HAND!!! If they take it off and throw it away, you are SOL.The San Diego Zoo has been a popular one in the past, but if your kids are not good at walking and don't like to ride on a bus, you may want to skip it. It's huge, and walking can take a lot out of the kids. But if they don't ind walking, or don't mind riding around, the zoo is great! Just be sure you take it at your kids' pace, and not your own.Anyway, those are a few of the places that we have found to be great to visit. The zoo is a very educational experience for children of all abilities, so keep it in mind. Just time your visit when it is most likely to be light on visitors.