Making Live Shows More Autism-Friendly

(photo: chicagotheaterbeat.com)

(photo: chicagotheaterbeat.com)

Live theater can be exciting, lively, and fun, but a bit unpredictable. Children on the autism spectrum typically feel more comfortable when they know what to expect, so many parents do not attempt to bring their children to a live performance. Many theatres are hoping to change this perception and make live performances more comfortable for those on the spectrum by making some accommodations.  Several performance companies throughout the nation are setting an example for other production companies on how to make performances more inviting and comfortable for children with autism.

Marsha Coplon, director of education at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, explains how to best approach children with ASD to assuage their fears of an unpredictable performance. Coplon states that she takes the stage before the performance to explain what would happen during the show. “This is the actors’ space”, she would say, gesturing to the set. “[And] this is our space”, she gestures to the chairs in the audience. This helps children understand that they are separate from what is occurring on stage, and that whatever occurs in that separate space is only “make-believe”.

Many children on the spectrum suffer from high sensitivity to bright lights, loud noises, or sudden movements. Therefore, companies are introducing “sensory-friendly” performances, where the lights are softened and the actors aren’t using microphones. An actor or staff member from the company would introduce the performance, giving an outline of what to expect. Further, a narrative is given to parents prior to the performance with specifics and photographs of what the children can anticipate.

Erica Watts, parent of a daughter with autism, states, “We [wondered], will she be able to sit that long? Will it be too much? Not enough?”. She states that she had never brought her daughter to a movie, concert, or play before, as she didn’t think her daughter’s needs or behavior during the performance would be accepted. Now that more companies are implementing sensory-friendly performances, Watts is able to let her daughter experience the joy of live performances, like any other child would. For more information, please click here.