New educational program at Toledo Zoo

June 28, 2011 9:00:00 PM PDT
A new educational program at the Toledo Zoo is helping children with special needs develop special relationships. It pairs young children with autism with animals. Research shows animal-assisted therapy really benefits children with special needs and especially those with autism. So what can a guinea pig teach a child with special needs? Toledo Zoo Lead Education Programmer Amy Magers says, "The kids are instantly excited by the animals but then they start to switch gears a little bit and really start to focus. You can see them building a relationship with the individual animals and that's what we're really trying to achieve here."

The interaction is part of a new zoo program called "APES." It stands for animals providing emotional support and is aimed at high functioning children with autism. Wagers says, "They spend time with the Nature's Neighborhood goats and the guinea pigs. And they work to develop relationships with the animals in hopes that those relationships will lead to building relationships with people in the future."

The program is starting with youngsters ages 5 to 8. They visit twice a week and work one on one with a special needs paraprofessional and zookeepers. Wagers says, "What we noticed after a session with the animal, the student typically pays more attention to the teacher. We see an increased amount of attention and focus."

The program's creators hope that will lead to better focus or more interaction in other parts of the children's lives. It started June 20th and will continue through September 1st. If there's interest, the zoo may extend that time and the age range. There is a fee for the program. You can find out more by calling the Toledo Zoo at 419-385-5721.

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