The Zoo is a Zoo

Spring break is always rough for my son. I’m pretty sure he fits the usual autism profile of needing year-round school (oh, one can dream) and structured down time. It gets exhausting as a parent to run a week-long camp for a child with a short attention span, but if you’re going to survive the school breaks, you’ve got to do it.

After our spring break devolved from a much-anticipated ski trip to Park City (lingering bronchitis caused me to cancel), then to a stay at a Hill Country resort outside of San Antonio (reservations messed up our reservation), we settled on going to the San Antonio zoo for one of the days.

The San Antonio Zoo is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2014 and it’s undergoing a great deal of new construction. It would be gorgeous and interesting if most of San Antonio had not also descended on the zoo on a stunningly beautiful mid-70s temperature Tuesday during spring break.

I would recommend not taking people no the autism spectrum to this zoo during spring break. It doesn’t have nearly enough space for the wanderings that people on the spectrum usually need and everyone is packed in there pretty close. It’s a great concept for neurotypical folks who want to be immersed in the experience, but not so good if you have autism and can get overwhelmed as my son was for our two-hour tour.

The zoo’s layout breaks a few of the cardinal rules for the needs of autism–there is no escape from the labyrinth once you’re in it. The African exhibits are great, but there is no “out of Africa”. Once you’re in this exhibit, you’re stuck and have to go all the way through it to exit. One of my cardinal rules for autism travel is, “Always have an escape route planned.” And the San Antonio Zoo, though lovely and interesting for typical brains, doesn’t provide this kind of leaving and returning that an autism brain sometimes needs to calm down and regroup.

And on this outing, I broke one of my own cardinal rules for autism travel, “Don’t visit places on the busiest days/times.” The zoo was packed that day for good reason–the weather was great and it was a school holiday. I have learned and continue to learn that you cannot travel with autism when it’s most convenient but when you have the greatest chance for success.

Because sometimes the zoo can be a real, well, zoo.

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