The zoo was closed to the general public, to welcome families with autistic children or who are sensitive to loud sounds. Anita McDowell spent the day at the zoo with her grandson, Jaxon.
“Really good to be out and for him to be able to experience these things, without getting stared at from people that don’t understand autism,” she said. “He’s nonverbal and he doesn’t say actual words — he just communicates with different sounds. He’s interested in animals, so when he gets to see them in person and not on the TV, you can tell he’s very interested in it.”
Francesca Randle, a board member of Autism Society of the Quad Cities, said they wanted to make sure guests were comfortable while being at the Coal Valley zoo.
“Niabi has turned off the train whistle, so that some of our kiddos who might be more sensitive to sound can enjoy the train today,” she said. “It’s just a little bit more of a quieter day. There’s fewer people here out and about, so it’s a really exciting opportunity for our kiddos in the community with autism.”
Ashley Whitworth said she’s glad Niabi Zoo did something like this because she’s only seen this done in larger cities.
“It’s nice to have that option for kids to just get a little bit more overstimulated, and then also know there will be other families that are a little more accepting of children who are a little different,” she said. “So it’s kind of nice to be able to come and enjoy it, like they deserve.”