Thursday, February 5, 2015

Theatre Gets Friendly...Sensory Friendly

For decades, people world wide have regarded live theatre as one of the most enjoyable sources of entertainment. For many theatre goers, nothing beats taking a night off in the city to watch a classic musical or play take place before their eyes. There is just something about the whole experience that is enthralling and magical; compelling actors, dynamic lighting, live music, beautiful's what makes the whole experience so enjoyable. But for individuals with autism or other sensory sensitivities, it is what makes being able to experience live entertainment nearly impossible.

For some families, indulging in the joy that performing arts can bring are both a challenge and a frustration. There are limited opportunities for children with autism or sensory needs to fully engage in performing arts. The arts are something that can be extremely therapeutic and empowering for individuals with special needs. But more than that, the lack of ability to enjoy live theatre is another way that families supporting an individual with special needs can feel disconnected from the community at large.

As a way to support families who face these difficulties, the Union County Performing Arts Center at Rahway has developed their own lineup of Sensory Friendly Theatre productions for their 2014-2015 season. Sensory Friendly productions are developed specifically for individuals with autism and sensory needs so that they are able to enjoy live performances. Sensory Friendly Theatre makes adjustments to elements such as lights, music, duration of show, and seating to make the theatre more accessible to a variety of viewers. 
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The web-page for the County Performing Arts Center explains that they have dedicated part of their facility to qualify as an Autism Friendly Space (AFS), and also hire specialists to train their actors in preparation for interacting with children with autism. This type of theatre is a great example of interdisciplinarity; performing arts companies and specialists for autism, sensory, and other areas of disabilities must work together in order to create the perfect environment for the participants. By working with AFS, Union County Performing Arts Center is striving to create a "catalyst of change" through working directly with children, families, neighborhood programs, and communities to encourage awareness, support, and inclusion of individuals and families with special needs. 

As someone who is an advocate for individuals with special needs, and plans on working in this type of theatre in the future, I think this is a great way to encourage greater inclusion of all people in society. What do you think? What are some other entertainment sources that might reach a larger population of people through sensory friendliness? How could this concept of "sensory friendly" be implemented in other areas of our society? 


  1. This is AWESOME. i've never heard of a program like this, i didn't even know they existed! honestly this is a wonderful way to incorporate many different areas into something that works for this category of illness. autism tends to effect social issues the most, especially in severe cases. i would love to see how this program works in a hands on environment. autism and public speaking are two things that i would see as conflicting, but absolutely a great example of interdisciplinary! i love it!

  2. This really is beyond cool. I went to see Matilda on Broadway this summer, and they just sent a note that they are about to do an autism-friendly performance, which is just so fantastic. What a perfect post to reflect your interests, and to introduce to the rest of us the possibilities for your future. Exciting!

  3. I am definitely going to look in to this more! I incorporate a lot of Drama Therapy in my expressive arts classes at school and think this would be very beneficial! Thank you for this!

  4. As I was reading your post I thought, “This really sounds like something Chelsea wants to do with her program”. And I had never really thought about the possibilities your program has to offer before, so thank you for giving me some insight! This is really wonderful and important for all people to enjoy the electrifying thrill of seeing a theatrical production. I am curious as to what a sensory friendly production is like. Very awesome!