Can children with autism spectrum disorders have the same experiences as those without? The nonprofit service organization Theatre Development Fund in New York City (best known for operating the TKTS Discount Booths) encourages these experiences and has launched an Autism Theatre Initiative to present autism-friendly performances of Broadway shows such as Disney's "The Lion King." The initiative launched in October 2011 with a sold-out performance, and the group will be presenting an autism-friendly performance of Mary Poppins on April 29 and a second performance of "The Lion King" on September 30. What makes these performances autism-friendly? Keep clicking to learn more and see photos provided by TDF...
What makes a program autism-friendly: adjustments to the production include reduction of any jarring sounds or strobe lights focused into the audience. TDF works with an advisory panel of experts on autism who suggests adjustments to the production and then have them implemented by the show's production staff.
Trained volunteers are there to assist families during the performance by answering questions and calming nerves, or providing activities or "fidgets" (small toys to play with) for those who might want to leave their seats during the performance.
In the lobby of the theater, there are staffed quiet areas as well as an activity area for children who want to leave during the show. Here's a picture of the activity area.
In advance of the shows, the families download a specially prepared
What do parents have to say about the show? "Watching my son's eyes fill with wonderment while his smile broadened moved his mother and me to tears. The memory that the TDF and all the wonderful volunteers helped to create for my family will never be forgotten, and I am eternally grateful," one dad told TDF.
The entire environment of the theater, not just the performance, is autism-friendly.
"Nothing could be better than to have an autism-friendly theatre that is a totally safe place for a family to be with their child with autism," Mark Roithmayr, President of Autism Speaks, said.
"The Lion King" is the seventh longest-running musical in Broadway history and one of only six productions in theater history to play for 10 or more years on Broadway. "The pilot autism-friendly performance of The Lion King was successful beyond our greatest expectations," Victoria Bailey, TDF's executive director, said. "It was tremendously emotional watching families experience live theatre together for the first time in an environment that was safe and supportive."
To learn more about TDF's Autism Theatre Initiative and sign up to get information on future performances go to: www.tdf.org/autism.