How to tell if a show is Autism Friendly

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How to tell if a show is Autism Friendly for your kids.

By guest blogger Adam Reimer, edited by Andrew Asnes.

Queens school teacher Cheryl Squires and son Geoffrey, 10, said they made 'friends with parents sitting around us' while attending 'The Lion King' performance for autistic kids and their families.

Queens school teacher Cheryl Squires and son Geoffrey, 10, said they made ‘friends with parents sitting around us’ while attending ‘The Lion King’ performance for autistic kids and their families. – JEFF BACHNER/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

One of the most exciting things about visiting NYC is being able to take your kids to see their first Broadway show.  Whether it is a Disney show like The Lion King or a classic like Annie, it is something you’ll want your kids to remember and enjoy.  Unfortunately, some parents may have a surprise when they take their children with Autism and other sensory disorders to a show that is considered to be kid friendly, but definitely not Autism Friendly.
Here are a few things you will want to investigate prior to buying your tickets to a Broadway show (or any show for that matter) if you are bringing a child who has Autism.

The Sound:

For many of us, surround sound is a fantastic effect.  For a child with sensory disorders and Autism who is used to hearing sound from one direction such as a TV, surround sound can
be a nightmare of loud noises and confusion, and begin a meltdown of fright.  Kids with Autism don’t like change, so having them walk into a theatre to hear loud sounds coming from every angle of the theatre can be disorientating.  We advise you to call the theatre box office ahead of time to ask about the sound set up.
Autistic kids also are not used to special effects within a show so we recommend you read  reviews of the show to find out if the characters fly during the show or if there are special lighting effects. Watching clips from the shows on youtube can be an effective way to find out what the show looks like. We also recommend finding a local autism group in NYC and ask them how other children with specific sensory issues reacted when seeing that particular show.

Preparing your child:

It can be very helpful to prepare your child for the show by using a simple storyboard to explain what will happen.  (just don’t spoil the show).

Something that is simple and should be done ahead of time is to create a storyboard of what your child can expect while attending the show. Include the major events and activities such as traveling to the theatre, using the restroom, getting a snack or drink if there is not a long line, being quiet when the lights go down, standing and applauding when the actors take their bow and then lining up quietly and calmly to leave the theatre in the aisles with everyone else. By doing this you can help to make your child’s experience more enjoyable.

The Theater Development Fund has created these simple storyboards for you to use to help explain to children in the autism spectrum  what to expect when going to the theater.

Click the linked articles below to view:
Loud Noises
Needing a Break
Moving Through Crowds

For more about TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative and to find out about upcoming Autism Friendly Performances of Broadway shows, visit: Autism Theatre Initiative

The Music:

We recommend introducing your child to the music from the show before you set out to see it.

Although you may love the music from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, your child may become irritated with it.  Having your child sit in an unfamiliar surrounding with loud noises and music that may cause irritation, could set up a meltdown that would not only spoil the event for you and your family, but would interfere with the enjoyment of the production by other patrons. By familiarizing your child with the music first, you will reduce the probability that your child will become irritated by the new songs.

If you are considering seeing several shows with your child, we recommend that you play the songs from the different shows and gauge your child’s reactions to the songs to discover which music is most agreeable to your child.  You may also want to take it a bit further and have them watch the trailers and see if they get excited for the show and at the same time prepare them for the effects and noises that they will experience while at the show. This is especially important if the show is is sound, light and/or percussion based like the Blue Man Group or Stomp.
Theatre can be an amazing experience for everyone.  Just because your child has Autism and sensory disorders doesn’t mean they have to miss out on theatre.  Introduce your child to the joys of theatre by finding a musical or a play that will be safe for them, that they can listen to and enjoy. You may also want to check with the theatre management to see if there is a way to attend a lights up dress rehearsal or other Autism friendly ways to enjoy the show.

This article was checked for accuracy by Bonnie Arnwine from National Autism Resources.  Visit her site about Autism.

About the author:
Adam has been attending broadway shows since he was a little kid.  With stars like Carol Channing, Liza Minella, Bebe Nuewirth and many others under his belt, he loves sharing broadway reviews about his favorite showtunes, what they mean to him and show that you may not have heard of.  

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