Hanging from Jess Peranteau’s office wall at OdySea Aquarium is a hand-written note from nine-year-old Mary Maguire. It’s a letter of thanks from a young girl who was thrilled to marvel at sharks, touch a sting ray, and – most importantly – see her older brother Danny, who is severely impacted by autism, enjoy a special day at “his favorite place in the whole wide world.”
“The Maguires are definitely one of my favorite families to see at the aquarium,” says Peranteau, OdySea Aquarium’s Director of Animal Care and Education. “They’re here so frequently, and seeing the positive impact we’ve had on their lives motivates me every day.”
To help more families impacted by autism and other developmental disabilities enjoy the aquarium like the Maguires, OdySea Aquarium is partnering with Phoenix-based Pal Experiences to become a “Pal Place”. Available free to everyone at PalExperiences.org, families can watch a video social story to prepare for their visit, check out insider tips and a sensory scale to help them plan, and use a custom digital guide to help with communication and getting around.
“OdySea Aquarium and their staff are committed to creating a supportive, welcoming environment for guests of all abilities, and it’s been such a joy working with them,” says Pal Founder Melanie Isaacs. “We’ve seen what this aquarium has done for the Maguire family, and we hope our tools can help so many more families like them enjoy this special place.”
Pal uses video modeling, an evidence-based best practice in reducing anxiety over new experiences. Each video stars a family impacted by autism or other developmental disabilities as they enjoy an experience at the Pal Place. Families at home watch the video, and they say it gives them confidence that they too can have a similarly positive experience. Jess Peranteau is especially proud of the family who stars in the OdySea Aquarium Pal video – the Maguires.
“We were honored to participate in this video,” says Frank Maguire, Danny and Mary’s dad. “It has been a great place for Danny and Mary to bond, and if we can play a small part in helping other families like ours enjoy this aquarium, we’ll be doing our part to pay it forward.”