Zoo Becomes First To Earn Certified Autism Center Designation

Elmwood Park Zoo is the first zoo in the world to become a Certified Autism Center (CAC). The designation, given by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), is awarded to organizations who have completed a training and review process with the goal to better serve individuals with autism and other sensory needs.

“We are extremely excited to be the first zoo to offer its guests on the spectrum services that are tailored to their needs. We know that the interactions our guests have with our animals can be so rewarding; we thank the IBCCES for helping us to extend these same experiences to an underserved community, and there’s no doubt that they will truly benefit from this inclusion,” said Al Zone, executive director and CEO of Elmwood Park Zoo.

Parents with children on the autism spectrum often find vacationing and traveling to new destinations a challenge due to sensory needs, dietary restrictions and safety concerns. While research shows that traveling and enjoying new experiences is one of the most intellectually stimulating events for individuals on the spectrum, there are still few trained and certified travel options for parents looking for destinations and attractions to accommodate their needs. For almost 20 years, IBCCES has been the industry leader in autism training for licensed healthcare professionals and educators around the globe. IBCCES recognized that many families with children with special needs have limited travel options and created programs specifically for the hospitality and travel industry.

“For years, research has demonstrated positive outcomes for individuals with sensory disorders who interact with animals. We’re excited to partner with such a great organization that is truly committing to serving those on the spectrum. We believe it’s important to ensure all guests can experience the world around them in a safe way,” said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman. “Our Certified Autism Center designation is awarded to premier organizations who have completed rigorous training and meet the highest industry standards.”

Rather than relying on the growing number of organizations promoting “autism-friendly” options that can vary widely, more parents are now seeking out destinations that have completed research-based training and professional review. IBCCES also created AutismTravel.com, a free online resource for parents that lists certified destinations and connects families to other resources and each other. Each destination listed on the site has met Certified Autism Center requirements, which include extensive staff training and an on-site audit conducted by leading autism experts. Elmwood Park Zoo will also be listed with other CACs on AutismMember.org, a partnership between IBCCES and Autism Society to connect families and individuals with businesses and resources committed to serving individuals on the spectrum.