Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary started its annual Autism Awareness Day five years ago because leaders felt there just wasn't enough community awareness and support for autism spectrum disorders.

Now, it's one of their biggest events.

Those on the autism spectrum have trouble expressing themselves through language and difficulty understanding direct and indirect communication from others. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, with 1 in 37 boys having an autism diagnosis in 2018 compared to 1 in 151 girls, according to Autism Speaks.

There are several types of autism, and symptoms and their severity vary with each person. Children can be diagnosed as young as 18 months, although many are diagnosed at ages 4 or older. Sadly enough, Autism Speaks reports that almost two-thirds of children ages 6-15 with autism have been bullied.

According to Autism Speaks, symptoms might include:

  1. Strong reaction to “sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors”
  2. Trouble understanding others’ emotions
  3. Avoids socializing and eye contact
  4. Difficulty with small changes in routine
  5. Repetitive “flapping, rocking, spinning,” or similar behaviors

Depending on the severity of symptoms, care and treatment for children with autism can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year — sometimes an estimated $60,000 or more.

Despite this difficulty communicating with others, those with an autism spectrum disorder often find a special connection with the animals at Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary. Tiger Creek leaders say it's something you have to see to understand.

Pepe and Scrunches (Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary via Facebook)

That’s why Tiger Creek offers free admission to families affected by an autism spectrum disorder as part of Autism Awareness Day on Saturday, May 18. Other families are welcome to join the fun at general admission rates.

During Autism Awareness Day, visitors can enjoy ABA sensory stations, a bounce house, snow cones and raffles.

Enrichment includes:

  • 10:30 a.m.: Lion treats and training session
  • 11:30 a.m.: Serval demo & keeper talk
  • 12 p.m.: Cumberland Academy Middle School's Dance team performance
  • 12:30 p.m.: Luna’s first birthday party
  • 1:30 p.m.: Tiger treats and training session

Luna is the white African lion rescued from a facility that breeds lions for hunting. She debuted at Tiger Creek when she was just 13 pounds and 2 months old, according to KLTV.

Now, she’s much bigger:

Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary via Facebook

Overall, Tiger Creek is home to more than 40 tigers, cougars, leopards and other felines. Visitors learn about efforts to preserve endangered species, including how Tiger Creek participates and advocates for genetic testing that will help protect and save endangered species.

Eager to visit? Call Tiger Creek at 903-858-1008, visit tigercreek.org and RSVP to the event on Facebook.