Fresno Zoo launches new program to improve visits for kids with autism

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Children with autism will now have a better experience when it comes to taking in the beauty, fun, and education of Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

Together with Valley Children's hospital, the zoo is launching 'George's Pass', a program that will make the zoo more accessible and an inclusive place for families who have a child with autism.

"We had hoped that it would spark a mission to improve care and make it easier for kids with autism to have a better hospital experience," said Shelly Reyes, George's Pass founder.

Reyes launched George's Pass in 2014. She is a nurse at Valley Children's and her son has autism.

The idea was to offer hope and to have a better experience and improve care inside the hospital.

The Chaffee Zoo is the first place outside the hospital to offer George's Pass.

It includes a special sticker to identify guests to staff who will provide individualized tips and accommodations.

Sensory backpacks with tools such as noise-canceling headphones and toys are provided.

Signs are posted around the zoo about where children can use the headphones.

"The motivation behind this is that the zoo should really be a place for everybody. And so we really started thinking about ways we can connect to more people in the community and this was an easy step we can take and we knew we had great partners," said Dean Watanabe of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

Reyes says the success of George's Pass wouldn't be possible without the help of her co-workers and friends at Valley Children's.

"As a mother, being able to do this has been incredible and a huge blessing. And it is because of the support of the hospital and to be able to have a voice and to have that voice supported," said Reyes,

The backpacks with information about the program will be available at the zoo for guests to check out.

Parents can also watch a video to see what their child with autism can experience at the zoo before their visit.

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Together with Valley Children's hospital, the zoo is launching 'George's Pass', a program that will make it more accessible to kids with autism.

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