Zoo to host Sensory Night for special-needs guests


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The Brevard Zoo is located at Wickham and Murrell roads in Suntree.

In order to accommodate guests with special needs, Brevard Zoo will be hosting a free Sensory Night on Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at which guests will be able to experience the temporary dinosaur exhibit without sound or movement before exploring the Exceptional Nature Space, which is an area designed to simulate an “authentic outdoor experience” while catering to individual needs. Guests will also be able to meet representatives from organizations that cater to individuals with special needs.

The ENS was completed last year, several months before the zoo became the first in Florida to receive sensory-inclusive certification from Birmingham-based nonprofit KultureCity. The staff is trained to interact with individuals with autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and related conditions. The zoo’s accessibility initiative is led by Special Needs Coordinator Lindsay Mathisen.

“We still have a ways to go to make everything accessible for everyone, but I believe we are stepping in the right direction. It is exciting to be able to offer different events and experiences to those who may typically find nature a challenge,” Mathisen said.

In addition to encouraging interaction with all the activities, the staff offers a variety of “quiet zones” and “sensory bags,” which contain headphones, weighted lap pads, “fidget toys” and other items individuals with sensory-processing disorders sometimes use to cope with crowds and loud noises.

The ENS is designed so that it can be adjusted for children with different challenges. Families can expect to see fort-building materials, “mud paint” and a water-play table among its activities.

“We will continue to listen to feedback from the community in making changes to accommodate and support the needs of our guests,” Mathisen said.

By Emily Lovelock