Zoo Lights Offers Sensory Inclusive Night

For those with different sensory needs, participating in holiday festivities can be challenging. That’s why the Oregon Zoo has partnered up with Northwest Regional Education Service District to make its annual ZooLights Night a more inclusive experience.

Members of the community and the media are invited to attend this year’s ZooLights Sensory Inclusive Night on Monday, Jan. 6. The experience offers families a chance to participate in ZooLights in an environment that is more suited to a child with autism and/or different sensory needs.

The story of ZooLights Sensory Inclusive Night begins in 2018. Oregon Zoo staff wanted to make this annual holiday event more accessible to children with sensory challenges. An estimated 1-2% of the population has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disorder often causes children to have communication challenges and to struggle in social situations.

Last year, Oregon Zoo staff worked with NWRESD staff member Lori Kellogg and her team of autism specialists to make the event more friendly to children with autism and other sensory challenges. The group walked through the event and made suggestions about what zoo staff could change.

The event will feature the same stunning light displays, but the music will be softer and flashing lights will be turned off. Cool down rooms also will be available to accommodate children who need to take breaks.

“We’re excited the Oregon Zoo is offering this opportunity to families in our community who have children with different sensory processing needs,” Kellogg says. Kellogg and her team attended last year’s pilot event and said it was heartwarming to see the children experiencing ZooLights without the typical challenges like large crowds and loud noises.

“Our goal is to let parents relax and let the kids experience the wonder of the lights at the Oregon Zoo,” says Sarena Gill, the zoo's ambassador animal area supervisor.

In order to minimize crowds, there are a limited number of tickets available. Prices have been discounted to $12.95 for adults and $7.95 for children 3-11. Children under 2 are free. Oregon Zoo staff also created special resources for children in English and Spanish so they know what to expect. Read more about this event.

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