Families of children with autism have another Massachusetts zoo to add to their autism friendly attractions list. Southwick's Zoo in Mendon has officially announced its inclusion in the Autism Alliance.

That's not to say that Southwick's Zoo hasn't been accommodating to families with autistic children. They have actually been working with Autism Alliance for years, hosting sensory-friendly nights every summer since 2015 and offering virtual zoo classes for families with autistic children during the pandemic school closures.

Now the zoo is officially certified as an Autism Welcoming Business. That's big news for families who may not have felt comfortable heading there any time of year.

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What "Autism Welcoming" Means

Southwick's Zoo's new status as an Autism Welcoming Business means that all staff at the zoo have received training designed to raise their awareness and understanding of autistic children. It also means autism welcoming kits will be available to families that need them upon arrival at the zoo and customized visual supports will be made available as well.

What Is in an Autism Welcoming Kit?

Southwick's Zoo staff told us the welcoming kits provided at guest services have tons of tools for keeping kids calm during their walk among the animals. They include noise canceling headphones for areas that might be too loud, sunglasses for when things get too bright, a squishy toy and grip stick for relieving stress and a water timer for helping to soothe children if needed. There is also a map in the kit marking out designated quiet areas where families can go for some down time.

Will the Southwick's Zoo's Upcoming Festival of Illumination Be Autism Friendly?

Unfortunately, when the lanterns finally light up the zoo starting in September, there will not be any specific autistic friendly hours offered this year. Executive Director and CMO Betsey Brewer told us that due to the partnership "with the Zigong company on this event...we will be unable to offer this." She did, however, add that the plan for next year's Festival of Illumination is to provide after hours "for the autistic community."

Brewer also told us that they are currently in the planning stages of providing morning and evening hours exclusively for families that include autistic children and those hours should be available sometime in 2022.

For now, families with autistic children can feel great about going to Southwick's Zoo and knowing that the entire staff is trained in helping them have an amazing visit. They join Buttonwood Park Zoo and Roger Williams Park Zoo as the local places certified sensory-friendly for animal-loving kids on the autism spectrum.

Meet the Animals at Pine Meadow Alpacas in Mattapoisett

At any given time, Pine Meadow is home to right around 100 animals, from alpacas and goats to yaks and sheep. The animals have personalities that range anywhere from spunky to shy, but we can assure you they're all just as cute as the next. Take a trip to Pine Meadow and meet just a few of their fuzzy friends through the following photos.