April is Autism Acceptance Month and one Central New York family is thankful their autistic children were not only accepted, but welcomed back.

Rachel Latendress and her husband took their 4 year-old twins Luna and Hazel to the Utica Zoo. "They were just recently diagnosed with Autism and are currently considered nonverbal," said Rachel. "They are starting to speak but most of our communication is through limited sign language and some words."

Autism is a developmental disorder affecting a person's ability to interact and communicate with other people. In 2010 1 in 125 children were diagnosed with Autism. In 2020 it was 1 in 54, according to the Autism Society.

When the family arrived they spoke to the zoo staff about their daughter's diagnosis and how they were still mask training. The girls were given stickers to signify mask difficulties. "Having sensory issues and going to crowded places is never an easy task," Rachel explained.

The family made it half way through the zoo before it became too much for the girls. "They had a sensory overload and couldn’t handle it anymore. The zoo was pack and as we were leaving, loudly mighty I add, everyone was staring."

The Executive Director at the zoo stopped Rachel and her family to provide 4 free passes so the twins could try again another day. "This is autism acceptance in its purest form," said Rachel. "This is the inclusion we fight for. April is Autism month and the Utica Zoo is doing a fine job showing up for our ASD kiddos."

Credit - Rachel Latendress

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