Live entertainment is undoubtedly a fun, stimulating experience for adults and children alike. However, for those with autism, these events can be a sensory overload and lead to high-stress situations. Therefore, they are often avoided by families affected by autism. Fortunately, due to the increasing awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the United States, there has also been an increasing frequency of “sensory-friendly” events catering directly to those with autism, but that are fun for the whole family as well.
The Theater Development Fund recently created the Autism Theater Initiative, a program designed to make Broadway shows autism-friendly during select performances. TDF has worked to provide a supportive environment staffed with autism experts, with adjustments to the production that are sensitive to those with sensory issues. In past showings, quiet rooms were available for overwhelmed children, and activities were provided for those who wanted to leave the theater during the performance. This judgment-free zone allowed children to get up, sing, dance, and shout, all activities that would be considered disruptive to the theater on a regular day. They have had overwhelming success with performances of The Lion King, and Mary Poppins, and have increased the demand for such events.
AMC theaters and the Autism Society have also made efforts to provide screenings of “Sensory Friendly Films,” also welcoming audience members to break the usual standards of being silent, and sitting still during a movie. Lighting and volume are taken into consideration with each showing. Parents are also allowed to bring their own snacks, and the movies are shown without advertisements.
The Musical Autist is an organization in Maryland that has been putting on sensory-friendly concerts, providing accommodations such as noise-reduction headphones, soft lighting, and lower volume levels. Volunteers help to keep children engaged during the performances, and guests are encouraged to interact with the musicians throughout the recitals.
In addition to accessibility to the arts, sporting events have also taken steps towards providing a sensory-friendly environment for those with autism. NASCAR recently teamed up with Autism Speaks to create a “day at the races” for children with autism and their families. The race was equipped with quiet zones, a fun and supportive atmosphere, and a knowledgeable staff. Children and their families were able to interact with some of the NASCAR drivers, and there were special presentations held for them as well.
In the baseball world, on May 6th for Autism Awareness Day, CitiField designated a quiet zone that allowed families with autistic children to experience the game without a sensory overload. An article in Newsday discusses how, due to its success, the New York Mets are now considering converting the second deck on the left field as a permanent quiet zone, with no music and less noise than the rest of the stadium.
All of these autism-friendly initiatives have been a huge step towards giving those affected the same entertainment luxuries that all children should be able to have. These are models for inclusion that will ultimately prevent those with disabilities from being discouraged to attend such events, and will increase their overall quality of life. Most of these projects have been relatively recent, and after seeing so many smiles on the faces of children and their families, hopefully it will become a standard in the entertainment industry in the years to come.