Audubon Nature Institute the first in the country with program for people with ‘sensory processing needs’

UPDATE -- Sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The five senses help us better understand the world around us, but not everyone's process is the same.

"What we're trying to do is make sure that if sounds are too much for you, we have headphones, if smells are too much for you, we have a way to tell you to move on to the next spot," says director of education projects at the Audubon Zoo, Brenda Walkenhorse.

Basically, the Audubon Institute is giving families options, helping people of all ages with or without developmental disabilities, to learn and grow.

"We have the tools to make sure that everybody feels accepted and included at all of our sites," says Walkenhorse.

The Audubon aquarium and zoo are now equipped with "sensory bags."

The bags contain everything from noise cancelling headphones, to fidget toys, even expression cards, giving non-verbal people the chance to communicate how they’re feeling by pointing.

And the results are remarkable. Parents are pleased.

"It's wonderful to see. They love it, they're grateful, they feel that it's a comfortable place for the whole family to come,” says Walkenhorse.

NEW ORLEANS -- Audubon Aquarium of the Americas became the first aquarium in the country Sunday to be certified a sensory inclusive aquarium.

According to a news release from the Audubon Institute, the Audubon Zoo has also been certified by KultureCity, making it one of the first of 10 zoos in the country to be recognized.

The comprehensive sensory initiative includes training for Audubon staff and volunteers on how to respond to visitors with sensory processing needs, branded signage on grounds, and designating quiet areas for guests.

Sensory bags are available for check-out during a visit that include fidget toys, noise cancelling headphones and more. Weighted lap blankets also are available.

Audubon’s website will feature “Social Stories” to help guests plan their visits and anticipate what to expect.

Signage at the Zoo and Aquarium designates “Quiet Zones” and “Headphone Zones” for guests who may experience sensory dysregulation, or “meltdowns.” Weighted lap pads and sensory bags with fidget toys and other sensory aids are available for guests to check out at the attractions' information booths.

“KultureCity is honored to partner with Audubon Aquarium on the sensory inclusion initiative,” said Barber. “By becoming sensory inclusive, Audubon Nature Institute is helping to create acceptance and inclusion for so many individuals that feel isolated from the community and have been afraid to venture out to aquariums and zoos.”

In addition to this initiative, Audubon is presenting free “Sensory Sunday” events at the Zoo, Aquarium, and Nature Center. Each “Sensory Sunday” event has a different theme, so families can attend multiple events throughout the year and enjoy a unique experience each time.