At Mommy University, we love the performing arts, and we especially love encouraging families to bring their children to local shows. This experience, however, can be challenging, overwhelming and difficult for some families. For those with children who have sensory needs, you know all too well how a trip to the theatre can be a painful experience. This is why we are recommending you check out a sensory friendly show!
What is a Sensory Friendly Show?
Sensory friendly shows are designed to create a performing arts experience that is welcoming to all families. It is especially wonderful for children with autism or other disabilities that create a sensitivity to sensory input. It’s a place where special needs children can feel free to be themselves. Often the lights are turned on and the sound is turned down, so children can dance, walk, yell or sing! As with all children, it is important that kids with autism or other disabilities are exposed to different situations in order to broaden their experiences, but visual and verbal prompts are key to helping them cope with and enjoy these amazing experiences.
Mommy University Presents
10 Benefits of Sensory Friendly Show
During sensory friendly shows, theaters tend to offer a relaxed and safe environment with limited crowds and visitors. Extra staff is often around to help as well. The most important aspect of these types of performances is that it’s a non-judgmental environment. Parents and caregivers can relax and talk to one another.
Sound levels are lowered throughout the performance for children who are sensitive to loud nosies. Because sounds that most people easily tune out might be at the forefront of your child’s awareness, it is important to decrease this distraction so they can truly enjoy the show.
During sensory friendly performances, the theater lights remain on at a low, and there is a reduction of lighting focused on the audience. Some children have difficulty taking in sensory input such as bright lights. A child may be sensitive to lights, smell or touch so changing the setting can make the show more enjoyable.
Provides Extra Space
Since crowds are limited, there is a lot of space throughout the theater for standing, walking and dancing. Children are encouraged to explore and be themselves. With adult supervision children are free to talk and leave their seats during the performance.
Provides a Quiet Place
Most theaters have break spaces for those who may feel overwhelmed or quiet areas within the theater. A child may be over stimulated from sensory input and need a quiet place to de-stress.
Provides a Social Story
Most performances provide a social story which parents are encouraged to share with their children prior to the performance. It’s important to show a child with special needs what you want them to do and what is expected. Social stories are great for enhancing social awareness and building social skills.
Allows for the Use of Communication Devices
The use of iPads and other tablet devices are allowed for communication purposes. These devices are great tools for education and communication.They can be tailored to the child and his specific needs. It is important to note that some children on the spectrum and with other developmental delays use electronic devices to communicate as they are unable to speak. Allowing them to use these devices, gives these children the opportunity to express their feelings about the show as well as ask questions.
The staff is often trained and know what to expect during the performance. Staff members often walk around holding sensory friendly toys for children to play with. Having staff that understand the needs of a child with sensory issues makes the experience easier and more comfortable for the entire family.
Parents and caregivers are encouraged to bring children their own snacks and drinks. Please check with the theater first to make sure they do not have any concerns or rules about certain foods. Hungry kids make for unhappy kids so snack away at your next sensory friendly performance.
Some theaters offer orientation visits for families with special needs children. Families can familiarize themselves with the theater and sometimes even pick seats. Allowing a child to see the theater before a show and even sitting in their own seat helps decrease the anxiety of attending. It also takes away the fear of the unknown and creates a sense of familiarity on the day of the performance.
It is very important for special needs families to have these shared experiences. It also helps children to develop important social skills. With a few small changes, theaters are now making the joy of attending performances available to all!