Bring The Noise… A Little Quieter, Please
Human beings love entertainment. Even people with autism. I know, there’s a common misconception that individuals with autism don’t experience feelings or cannot enjoy things like “normal” folks, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Jack, especially, loves music. He loves dancing. He loves to watch shows and movies as much as his brothers.
Jack can not, however, tolerate a lot of loud noise. Or crowds. Or flashing lights.
But he wants to, and so do a multitude of other children and individuals who are sensitive to sensory overload. I often find myself covering my own ears or shielding my eyes during concerts, and I am (allegedly) neurotypical.
It seems like it would be just another thing folks with autism cannot do, but you’d be wrong. A few years ago, AMC theaters in the U.S. started monthly “autism-friendly” screenings: films shown early in the day with the lights up (or not lowered all the way), lower sound levels, and outside food allowed. The idea has spread, and autism societies and movie theaters across North America are beginning to make these screenings a regular happening. We’ve never actually attended one of them, but if they were offered near us on a regular basis, you can bet we would, and often.
Jack has only seen two movies in the theater. We took him and his brothers to see “Toy Story 3″ at the El Capitan in Hollywood. The film was crowded and presented in 3D, and to be honest, he only saw about half of it (and he never wore the glasses). We went for the history and the spectacle, and because Disney-Pixar had erected a Toy Story carnival behind the theater (you can read about our experience here and here). Last year we went to see “The Lorax”, and while he ran the aisles before and after, he actually sat through the entire film.
We’ll probably venture to the movies more often now, knowing how well he did the last time, but what about live theatre?
I have always wanted to share my love of musical theatre with my children. As a child, both of my parents were very active in our local theatre. My father built sets and had small roles. My mother choreographed a lot, directed a little, and starred in almost every major musical role she could. How many kids get to see their mother fly across the stage as Peter Pan? I grew up in the theatre, and going to shows was a regular part of my life. I want that for my kids. Until now, though, it’s been hard.
There is a lot of live theatre in the Vancouver area, and a lot of children’s offerings. Just last night I was looking up tickets for a performance of “The Cat in The Hat”, which I know my kids would love. I caught myself asking the same old question, though. If I spend that much money on tickets, will we actually get to see the show? Will one of us spend most of it in the lobby or the car? More often than not, we opt for a different kind of outing that isn’t a potential waste of a lot of money.
A friend reading my mind happened to post an article on my Facebook profile last night about sensory-friendly productions in New York. The Theatre Development Fund has started buying all of the seats for individual performances of Broadway shows and offering them at a discount to families and individuals with autism. In turn, the show is presented with a lower volume, more moderate lighting, and an understanding that the audience is not typical. But they are just as happy to be there, perhaps more so.
So far, the Fund has offered performances of “The Lion King,” “Mary Poppins,” “Elf: The Musical,” and, coming this spring, “Spiderman: Turn off The Dark.”
I would love to see the autism-friendly Broadway shows become a “thing” across the US and Canada. Most theatre companies putting on shows for children already offer all-ages shows, and a sensory-friendly experience doesn’t require much more adjustment than those. I also know for a fact that autism families will come from all over if they have an opportunity for almost fail-proof entertainment. There aren’t a lot of guarantees in the autism jungle, but sensory-friendly screenings and performances are a great start.
Autism families talk. A lot. I talk. A lot. If you’re a theatre company thinking of launching a sensory-friendly experience, I’ll tell everyone I know about it. I’ll fill your seats. My son deserves a tiny bit of the magic of live theatre. Every child does.
Clap if you agree.