autistic male kissing a koala being held by a zoo keepr
14 Jun

Community Spotlight - Australian Reptile Park

This month we chat to the Australian Reptile Park about their inclusive programs for children with a disability and their families including Inclusive Kids 2 Keeper, calming sensory kits, noise cancelling headphones and much more!

Firstly, tell us a bit about the Australian Reptile Park and the services it offers?

The Australian Reptile Park is a hands-on, interactive zoo, based in Somersby on the beautiful NSW Central Coast in Australia. It’s the best place in Australia to interact with native animals and catch exciting wildlife shows!

The Australian Reptile Park is the only zoo in Australia committed to saving lives. With snake and spider venom milking programs, we’ve contributed to saving over 300 lives a year for the past 50 years. The venom that we produce is used to generate all land snake and funnel-web spider anti-venom in Australia.

Tell us how the reptile park caters for autistic individuals and families?

The Australian Reptile Park have multiple calming sensory kits available on request if visitors are feeling overwhelmed and need some quiet time. The kit includes a weighted lap pad, calming sensory toys, fiddle mat and a touchy-feely book to soothe visitors. The Park also offers noise-cancelling earmuffs for free, all-day hire. All first aid kits on site include ear muffs and a sensory kit to assist if a guest is overstimulated during or becomes stressed in a first-aid situation.

The Inclusive kids-2-keeper experience begins at 8:00am (before the Park opens to the general public) so that participants can enjoy their hands-on time with reptiles and birds in the Undercover Area without noises and distractions from other visitors. Visitors are also able to plan their visits to cater to the sensory needs of guests by visiting our website which lists sensory considerations, such as lights or loud music, at different exhibits.

We offer free entry for carers when accompanying a person with a disability when they present their NSW Companion Card. The person with a disability can enter at our discounted Concession rate when a valid concession card is presented.

Tell our readers about the Inclusive Kids 2 Keeper program.

Inclusive Kids 2 Keeper is a zookeeper experience, modified to be inclusive and accessible for children aged 7-18 who are living with a disability. This experience gives children with sensory-processing disorders, autism, or reduced mobility the opportunity to experience a Kids 2 Keeper tour, alongside their carers, in an environment that is suited to their needs. The program begins before park opening hours to avoid the noise and interaction with the general public, making for a calmer experience.

Inclusive Kids 2 Keeper is hosted by three experienced zookeepers and runs for 2 hours. Visitors are able to get up close to a variety of animals and enjoy a morning tea provided by the kiosk. Once the experience wraps up, guests have full access to the park for the rest of the day.

The program also extends to Big Kids 2 Keeper?

Inclusive K2K was originally offered as an experience for ages 7-18 but after we saw demand for the experience, we expanded the program into two age groups – 7-12 and 13-18.

What are your aspirations at the reptile park to make it more accessible and inclusive for families and people with a disability?

At the Australian Reptile Park we’re always looking to improve the accessibility of the park and have plans to upgrade more of our paths to make navigating around the park easier for less mobile visitors.  We would love to be able to offer special times for those with sensory considerations to be able to enjoy certain exhibits without being overstimulated and are looking into how we can achieve this.

We’re always open to feedback from the autistic community and encourage visitors to recommend how we can improve and make the park the best family FUN day out for all.

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