Autism Acceptance in the Theatre

In past blogs, I’ve discussed different challenges that people with Autism face as they gain acceptance in their communities. Today I would like to spotlight a jewel in a somewhat nearby community, The Racine Theatre Guild. First of all, I should disclose that I am a volunteer with this organization. However, that is how I became aware of all that RTG does for its community. Of course, the Racine Theatre Guild has the normal amenities to help people with challenges enjoy the theatre: hearing devices, and accessible seating. However, they do so much more than that.

Twice a year the Racine Theatre Guild does “outreach shows” where they invite schools to daytime performances. The kids enjoy a show followed by a question and answer segment afterward. I have had the privilege of being part of these outreach shows and I can say that the hard work the volunteers do to put on these plays is well worth it. It is wonderful to see and hear the reactions of the kids, especially those who are experiencing live theatre for the first time.

Another way RTG stands out is in its acceptance and understanding of those with disabilities. For each play in the season, Thursday before the opening night, the Racine Theatre Guild opens its doors to the local community of adults with varying cognitive and physical challenges, individuals with ASD are among this group, allowing a special viewing of the new show (along with the press.) In this same vein, recently, the grandmother of a child with autism reached out to the Theatre Guild. Her granddaughter’s favorite books were the Boxcar Children Series. The young lady had never been to a live theatre performance, and though her grandmother was excited by the prospect of her granddaughter’s favorite series presented on stage, you can understand her trepidation. Her grandmother contacted the RTG with her concerns and was welcomed by the kind staff and volunteers. Suffice to say, the young lady received what she needed for an enjoyable experience.

Here I would like to caution the families of people with autism. Live theatre may not be for everyone with ASD. There can be sudden noises, flashing lights, and effects that may be frightening for people with sensory sensitivities. However, if you know the challenges and limits of your loved ones, it can truly be an enjoyable experience. As always, a successful outing involves preparation. Call ahead to see if there are any surprise effects that might irrevocably unsettle your loved one, or to figure out which plays would be the best fit. Pick your seats with an awareness of their specific needs. Should you be closer to the door or the stage? Before the performance date, and right before arriving, practice the expected behaviors for a theatre. Bring headphones or earplugs to help with sensitive ears. Finally, be prepared to leave if the sensory experience becomes overwhelming. All of this preparation is much easier when you have a welcoming place like the Racine Theatre Guild to go to. So go ahead and try it!

Rebecca J. Weaver is a Certified Autism Specialist at Independent with Autism, working to empower individuals with ASD. Need help creating your success strategies? Check out IndependentwithAutism.com for more information.

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