Autism Theater Initiative Aims to Create Autism-Friendly Broadway Environment

If you have a child with autism, you know how uncomfortable it can be when you see people staring or thinking you’re a bad parent because you can’t calm or control your child. You also know that there are so many opportunities that your child has to miss because of sensory issues; a common ‘trigger’ for autistic behaviors and problems. It can be utterly frustrating sometimes.

A nonprofit organization, the Theater Development Fund, hopes to open up an activity that many children and adults with autism might normally miss out on – Broadway productions.

Kickoff for the program will be on October 2nd in what will be “the first ever autism-friendly performance in Broadway history.” The matinee will be a slightly altered performance of Disney’s “The Lion King” and it will take place in the Minskoff Theater, which has around 1.600 seats.

All tickets for the event have already been sold, thanks to the efforts of Autism Speaks, who helped spread the word. Even Disney was supportive in helping with the efforts. In fact, the initiative has been so positive and received so much support and response that T.D.F. is already considering setting up more autism-friendly performances in the future.

When asked why they are doing an autism-friendly program, Lisa Carling, T.D.F.’s director of accessibility programs stated, “Parents of autistic kids are concerned. They want their child to be comfortable, and they don’t want people thinking they are bad parents because they can’t calm their children down. It’s so important for families who are raising kids with autism to feel they are in a friendly environment.”

Alterations to the program were minor but everyone was happy to help. T.D.F. even had experts take a look at the regular program to determine where alterations should be made to accommodate autistic children. “They came up with about seven places in the show where they felt it would be beneficial to tone the sound down or bring the lighting up or down. A very slight softening of the production, in terms of light and sound, is a mild change,” said Carling.

To make add to the autistic-friendly environment, T.D.F. plans to fill the lobby area with bean bags, squishy balls, crayons and paper and even headphones to listen to music. This “quiet area” will be a place for parents to take their children if they feel that their child needs a little break from the stimulation.

Of course, no one really knows how things will pan out. That’s a lot of autistic behaviors in one room and autistic children and adults can sometimes be triggered by those around them. To help minimize the chances of any complications, Carling stated, “We are also relying on parents to know their children. If a child is becoming upset, we hope parents will know when to go in the lobby for a time out. For the most part we anticipate that everyone is going to have a wonderful time.”

Personally, I think this is a wonderful treat for families that deal with autism every day. Not only will the children have an opportunity to enjoy an event that might have otherwise been closed to them, parents will be able to rest easy knowing that every other parent in the room deals with the same challenges they do so, even the parents should be able to have a little fun and relaxation.

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About the author


Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done.

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