(Madera, CA) – For the first time ever, Valley Children’s George’s Pass is expanding beyond the healthcare network and into community organizations.
On Monday, April 29, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo became the first community organization outside of Valley Children’s Healthcare to start utilizing George’s Pass – a program aimed at easing the anxiety of a potentially stressful environment for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and special needs.
Valley Children’s has partnered with the Fresno Chaffee Zoo and Fresno State in an effort to make the Zoo’s family-friendly environment even more accessible to all guests. These efforts led the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to become a certified Pal Place. This certification assists families in preparing for their zoo trip in advance, opens discussion about anything they would like to see or do before coming and helps identify potentially sensory sensitive areas. The Fresno Chaffee Zoo is the first zoo location in the United States to become a Pal Experiences “Pal Place.”
George’s Pass is the only program of its kind in Central California. This program, named after Valley Children’s popular George the Giraffe mascot, was developed by Valley Children’s day surgery nurse, Shelley Reyes, RN. Shelley’s son, Jalen, has ASD and Shelley wanted to ensure that Valley Children’s worked to make the environment as welcoming and stress-free as possible.
“George’s Pass is about inclusion, understanding and acceptance for families throughout our area with children who have special needs,” says George’s Pass founder Shelly Reyes, RN. “The impact this program has had on families at our hospital has been profound and the chance to expand to community partners was one we did not want to miss. George’s Pass at Valley Children’s is my proudest accomplishment as a nurse. Seeing it here now at the Zoo is one of my proudest moments as a mom.”
As part of George’s Pass at the Zoo, guests can receive George’s Pass lanyards or stickers, helping staff provide appropriate accommodations whenever necessary. Guests are also able to check out sensory bags at the front ticket booth. These bags contain resources designed to assists individuals with autism including small fidget tools and noise cancelling headphones. The Zoo offers a sensory map and signage to identify “Headphone Zones” and “Quiet Zones” to further help families and individuals have an enjoyable experience on even the busiest days.
“We are excited to offer these new resources to our community and look forward to becoming more inclusive and more accessible for all of our visitors,” says Fresno Chaffee Zoo Chief Conservation Education Officer Dean Watanabe.
Fresno Chaffee Zoo staff received special training on working with audiences on the autistic spectrum. This training, facilitated by Dr. Marianne Jackson, the coordinator of the Master’s degree option in Applied Behavior Analysis and an associate professor in the Psychology Department at Fresno State, will help the Zoo better meet the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum, providing a higher level of service to all Zoo guests.
“In the field of Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, we are well known as the gold standard for teaching skills to individuals with autism that help them navigate their world,” says Dr. Jackson. “Projects like this are a good reminder that as a community, we can all make changes to the environment around us to make it more inclusive for all types of neurodiversity, including autism. We are proud to be involved in this community partnership.”
Through George’s Pass and partnerships with organizations such as Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Valley Children’s Healthcare hopes to work to identify and highlight other family-friendly locations that meet criteria designating them an autism-friendly environment.