March 10, 2017

CC BY-SA by thomascrenshaw

Autism Daily Newscast recently reported on the increasing numbers of films that are being presented in autism friendly setting. Live theater is also taking up the challenge of offering special productions for children with special needs. If taking a small child to watch a theater play has proven to be a challenge, you can just imagine the difficulty for a parent of a child with special needs when he or she brings the child to the theater.

Children with autism are extra sensitive when it comes to their senses. They may be easily affected by sudden changes in scenery. They may find abrupt changes in sound disturbing. A flicker of light which you may pass of as nothing may trigger mood swings to a child with special needs.

However, these children also deserve to experience what it is like to be in a real theater. They are no less of an appreciative audience to wonderful performances since some of them are also blessed in the arts.

With their situation in mind, the management of Benedum Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was able to come up with a performance that is specifically designed for children with special needs. Benedum will stage an autism-friendly matinee show of Disney’s The Lion King, a classic favorite among children on Saturday September 21st 2013.  Pittsburgh is not the first city to experience a autism friendly performance of  The Lion King. About three years ago, a similar version was offered in New York and then Houston.

The staging of The Lion King will keep the plot, the characters and their respective costumes, and the live sounds of the musical. What makes the performance autism-friendly is the absence of strobe lights that are known to bother children with special needs. The lights in the theater will not be dimmed all throughout the performance and rest assured that there will be no abrupt audio changes including the famous lion’s roar.

Rooms that can accommodate children and adults with special needs who may want a quiet space will also be provided. For those who cannot stay in their seats for the entire duration of the play may opt to watch it on the big screen provided outside the theater room. Use of iPads is also allowed for the night to aid the children in maintaining their focus and moods.  There is also a special booklet that has been developed and distributed before the event so that parents can go through with their child exactly what will be occurring.

Working with the Autism Connecton of PA, around a hundred volunteers were properly trained for this event. From assisting the audience in taking their seats, up to watching the performance itself, ushers and staff are equipped with necessary knowledge on how to deal with children with special needs. The stage performers were also readied for their audience; hence, the audiences don’t have to worry about making distractions.

Pittsburgh Cultural Trust takes pride in this movement since the play is a testament to their goal of “being as inclusive as [they] can.” They are actually already doing the necessary arrangements for another autism-friendly theatrical performance of The Nutcracker on December.


About the author 

Kayla Wright

Kayla Wright is a final year Journalism Major student from The University of West Indies in Jamaica. She has a breadth of experience in all aspects of media, ranging from audio to video editing and presentation. Kayla is also learning more about journalism hands on with her work at

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