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.
(Image From ucpac.org)
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?