AUTISTIC NICK, GOING OUT AND AUTISM FRIENDLY PERFORMACES
Cast your minds back to December, that time of year when we all over spend on food and alcohol at the supermarkets taking full advantage of the various in store two for the price of one offers, filling up to four trolleys with hams, cheeses, pates etc and then lugging them to the car afraid that on that one day (Christmas Day) comes along that somehow the food that you bought will have run out.
December is a stressful time anyway, what with having to work out where to spend it, who will be invited and who won’t.
So, imagine my shock at receiving an invite to attend a dance performance within the grounds of a private school in the upper echelons of Perth.
Yes, I got invited to go and spend 5 and a half glorious hours watching a dance company perform routines as their end of year achievements.
After purchasing the ticket ($50) I know what a complete rip off I set out to the performance venue and settled in.
I should have been alerted to the fact that I wasn’t going to be in for a joyous night as the loud music being pumped out could be heard as local residents sipped from there decanted crystal wine glasses and a servant served them various meats and vegetables that lay on silver platters.
As the doors shut at 5.29 PM. The lights went down, and the onslaught began.
To best describe it, imagine that you have somehow become trapped inside a shipping container.
Now imagine that loud jungle trance music is being played at 100 decibels.
Next dancers appear and whoops and names of those dancers are being called out as if they are on an American TV talk show.
It was like this but inside a dark room
I had to get out.
It was all becoming too much for me.
So, I quietly grabbed the car keys from my mum and headed out towards where the car was parked.
Finally, some peace and quiet and the chance to reflect and have something to eat (I’d bought sandwiches and a drink with me).
In the distance the music could still be heard although it was faint.
But What Could Have Been Done?
Before Your Visit
Tell the theatre when you are booking that you have an Autistic person in your party If there is a chance that you may need some time away from the show during the performance ask for an aisle seat so you can leave the theatre without disturbing other audience members too much.
Check the theatre’s website to see if there is anything there which could help you to prepare for your visit, such as social stories, or photographs of the inside of the theatre.
Ask the theatre if they know about our guide to making theatres more autism-friendly. You could email or print it for them ahead of the date of the show, so they have time to make any changes.
If you would like to visit the building before you go to the show, contact the theatre and ask to arrange a convenient time.
Ask if there is a quiet area at the theatre that you can use if necessary.
Sensory issues are what cause the most problems for an autistic person attending the theatre. This can range to loudness of sound/music, darkness within the auditorium, sudden noises within the performance, strobe lighting, smells and sound effects. If you have a student who is on the spectrum it may be advisable to contact the theatre manager to ask what is in the show so you can prepare your student and staff before your visit.
On The Day
If you use tools to help with sensory issues (e.g. ear defenders, or fiddle toys) remember to bring them with you.
When you arrive if you feel that your seat is not suitable, ask a member of staff if you can sit somewhere else, and explain why (if the show is full this may not be possible so it’s always advisable to ask about seating when booking).
During the show if you become overwhelmed due to a sensory overload please use the quiet area (if there is one) to help relax before re-entering the auditorium
What Theatres Can Do
I believe that theatres can and should make reasonable adjustments to enable Autistic people to enjoy their theatre experience.
On some occasions an Autistic person might make excessive noise which affects other people’s enjoyment of a performance. In order to meet the needs of autistic people and those of other audience members we recommend that:
All staff attend an Autism awareness session
Suitable seating is provided, for example at the end of an aisle to enable a person to move away if needed with minimal intrusion to other audience members
A quiet room is available nearby
The Autistic person, their parent or carer is asked if they need assistance or adjustments.
Visual supports are provided to explain what behaviour is expected at the theatre.
What Staff Can Do
If a person is feeling anxious, ask if there’s anything you can do to help, or suggest a quiet room where they can go to relax
Understand that ‘odd’ behaviour is often the result of a person with Autism trying to understand the world, take in information or cope with sensory issues.
A sympathetic, understanding and friendly attitude from the staff can be very reassuring and welcoming.
If an Autistic person becomes distressed or agitated during a performance consider asking people in the neighbouring seats to move, as trying to move someone with Autism when they are feeling particularly anxious could cause more problems.
Ask visitors to let you know ahead of their visit if they have a disability. There should be space on the form for people to be able to say if they do have a disability which you should know about, and what the disability is.
If you have already located a good quiet room, you may like to let the visitor know that it exists to give them the choice of booking a seat nearer to that area.
Before The Visit
Autistic people can often get anxious about going to new places. An introduction to the theatre, ahead of the performance, can help to manage this anxiety. This could be the day before or earlier on the day of the performance. Be open to suggestion and what works for both parties.
You could take photos of the outside and inside of the building for families and schools to look at before the visit. These could be available on your website.
Ensure that your staff know where they can direct people to a quiet room or space. These areas need to be easily accessible from where the person is sitting. Consider any lighting, smells or distractions in that area which might affect someone with autism (for example the smell of foyer food).
If a parent or carer is on their own with someone with a disability check to see if they would like to have a drink or ice cream brought to them, as it may be too difficult for them to get to the vendor.
It’s a shame that my experience was ruined by those that ran the event not taking into consideration that an Autistic person would be in attendance.
If you are looking for any Autism Friendly performances then you can contact your local Autism Association in your state for more details
Autism Organisations – Australia wide:
Carry On The Conversation
What have your experiences been like when you’ve gone to the theatre was it a positive experience?
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Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.