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Clearwater, FL: Marine Aquarium offers "sensory bags" for autistic visitors

July 10, 2023, CW44, Tampa Bay, FL: Clearwater Marine Aquarium offers sensory items for children and adults

CLEARWATER, Fla. (Tampa Bay Now) - The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is taking new steps to make sure kids and adults with disabilities are able to enjoy seeing the animals.

Employees are giving out sensory bags filled with items people can use to help them navigate the aquarium

Kids and adults from all over the country come to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to see dolphins and other animals.

Now, people with autism, ADHD, down syndrome and more can explore the aquarium a little easier.

"Sometimes people can have sensory overload so they can be sensitive to the lighting around them, the environment itself, the crowd and the noises," said Chelsey Gabrillo with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Aquarium staff are handing out bags filled with sensory items, like noise cancelling headphones and fidget toys….

Gabrillo says the bags also hold emotion cards.

"They are going to be able to point on this card and show us how they feel in that moment," she said.

It's something Fisher says will make a big difference.

"Not everyone is verbal, so I think having something like that so they can kind of point to how they are feeling so they can express it without having to verbally express it is great," said Fisher.

On each level of the aquarium, there are also now designated quiet zones.

"Giving them or the child time to get a sense of feeling calm or being able to control that feeling of being overwhelmed," said Gabrillo.

Fisher says she's glad the aquarium is taking steps to make it inclusive for everyone. "I think it's going to make it so that families who wouldn't have wanted to come now would be able to come," said Fisher.

And to make people feel more comfortable, they can visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium website and see pictures of what they can expect to see before getting to the building.

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