After receiving enthusiastic feedback following an October showing of “The Lion King,” specially tailored to be friendlier to the families of children with autism, two more autism-friendly shows have been slated for 2012. With around 1 in 100 children now being diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder, it’s refreshing to see family entertainment changing to cater to an audience with diverse needs.
Tickets will go on sale for the September showing of “The Lion King” later this spring. Tickets for the April 29th performance of “Mary Poppins” are nearly sold out.
Since children with autism are often sensitive to light and sound, the shows have toned down scenes with jarring sounds and strobe lights. There will be quiet areas available for overwhelmed kids, staffed by autism experts, with beanbag chairs and coloring books. They realize that some families will not be able to stay through the entire show, and that audience members need to be warned about props or set design that might move above the seats.
The shows are being offered by the Theatre Development Fund, a non-profit organization focused on providing access to live theater, particularly theatregoers with disabilities. TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative aims to help provide a safe and supportive environment for people with autism or sensory processing issues, as well as their friends and family members. Another big part of their program is offering tickets at reduced prices, to help offer affordable theater for those who otherwise would not be able to access it.
TDF is also offering to consult with other theaters to help with planning autism-friendly productions. They’ve even published a downloadable guide, letting children with autism know what to expect throughout the show, to avoid any surprises which might startle or upset them.
Demand for the shows is high: after the initial performance of “The Lion King,” TDF heard from around 1,500 people asking about future shows. Hopefully, if these next two productions are successful, more and more shows will be adapted to meet the unique needs of children with autism and other developmental disorders.
Photo credit: Dottie Mae