Paula Williams guided the hand of her son, Ty, to the glass surface of the exhibit of lionfish.
Due to his autism, Ty does not communicate verbally, but Williams said he enjoys touching things and seems particularly interested in textures.
Like many who have autism, or autism spectrum disorder, Ty is sensitive to loud noises, bright lights and crowds.
The two were enjoying Autism Awareness Night at the Sea Life Charlotte-Concord Aquarium on Oct. 15. There are two more events scheduled: 3-8 p.m. on Oct. 22 and Oct. 29, with a reduced admission of $10.50 per person.
In partnership with the Charlotte chapter of Autism Speaks, the nonprofit advocacy group for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, the aquarium made adjustments to its environment to make it more sensory-friendly for visitors.
Usually the aquarium is dark so that the exhibits stand out. But for these nights, the aquarium raises the lights and lowers the music. The crowds on Wednesday nights are also smaller, which enhances the experience for families.
Williams said she noticed that the community is becoming more sensitive to people with autism. She and Ty have attended three sensory-friendly films at the AMC theaters in Concord Mills mall.
Maeghan Pawley, programs and services manager for Autism Speaks Southeast, said the organization trained the Sea Life staff on behaviors to expect and how to deal with them.
Williams said Ty will stay calm and pay attention when he is comfortable and interested in an activity.
Kelly Finnessy, marketing coordinator for Sea Life, wants to invite everyone to enjoy these special nights – including children that are scared of dark places or those who would like to learn more about autism.