In what appears to be a first, a Broadway show is setting aside a performance and tweaking sound levels, special effects, and the theater lobby to accommodate a sold-out crowd of families with children on the autism spectrum. The performance of “The Lion King” on October 2 has been orchestrated by the Theater Development Fund, a New York nonprofit.
Disney and the TDF have made some guesses that they hope will make the show more enjoyable for people with autism, like toning down sound cues and providing bean bag chairs. “But no one has been able to tell us what the effect will be of having around 600 children and adults on the autism spectrum in the theater at the same time,” a TDF executive tells the New York Times. Another advocate and watcher was a little more optimistic when speaking with the AP. “Maybe they’re not ready for this,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean we stop trying.”
And even if no one knows what will happen when the curtain comes up, there is evidence that quite a bit of thought has been put into this trial run. For instance, as the AP points out, the TDF worked with Autism Speaks to develop a Social Story to post to their website. These are like first-person run-throughs that allow children with autism to get accustomed to new experiences and routines ahead of the actual thing, and have proven tremendously helpful in expanding kids’ horizons.
“If I want to clap, I can,” reads one section. “I don’t have to clap if I don’t want to. If the clapping is too loud, I can cover my ears, wear my headphones, or hold my Mommy or Daddy’s hand.”