Going to the theatre with an autistic child can be a challenging and often stressful experience. Busy areas, unexpected sounds and lights, coming and going, and of course huge applause. Sensory overload! 

Add to this the ‘conventional’ idea of ‘sitting still and quiet’ means traditional theatre trips can often be ruled out of family half term plans for many parents, grandparents or guardians of autistic children. Is this you or someone you know? Read on.  

Research shows that going to the theatre with an autistic child can actually help with their social-emotional development. 

There can be a solution to open the doors to theatre for many young children with autism who find ‘theatre’ a real challenge. It is called multi-sensory immersive theatre.   

Narelle Cox is an Autism Professional with a BSc in Autism Studies. She has been teaching and supporting autistic children for thirteen years and has been visiting Head2Head shows with autistic children for the past 7 years. Here are a few reasons Narelle suggests on why you should be booking a fun and immersive autism friendly theatre show this Easter half term.

There is NO real ‘audience’ 

No imposing stages, no loud clapping, no hushing sounds or frowns from other people and no big crowds.  That is because, we don’t visit big theatres, we run our shows in community centres or schools so we are eye level with everyone. In addition to this our shows are capped to 24 people maximum and there are no ‘real’ rules. 

You can join in! 

We refer to our ‘audience’ as ‘participants’.  This is because they don’t just sit and watch.  They take part in the story and become part of what we do on set. For example, if your child decides to get up and join us for a dance, we dance with them.  

Interactive/immersive theatre can often include the child and their name, so they know that they are part of it and they impact it. Understanding their actions impact others actions is an important thing to learn and it happens in a fun and playful way. 

Professional and passionate Makaton trained cast 

Professional cast of actors trained in Makaton play characters which are fun, silly and engaging.

Nothing can faze our actors; they are passionate about what they do (creating magical sensory experiences) and they are trained in working with children and young adults with multiple disabilities.  All our shows are Makaton signed. It is a great opportunity to experience Makaton in the real world, being exposed to other signers and new signs. 

The characters played are fun, silly and engaging and can open up the idea to the person with ASD that others can be fun and engaging too. 

Shows are short and fun 

No need to worry about focus of attention for 2 hours or more. Our shows are shorter, fun and engaging. Most sensory live shows are between 45mins and 1 hour. 

Free to explore in a safe environment 

Children are able to explore new items, toys, music and songs – you usually find a new thing you like this way. Being accepted and allowed to explore as they want to is liberating and engaging for the child who is not being constantly restricted or stopped as so often happens when out and about. 

Chill-out zone 

If it does all get too much, we provide a designated breakout space for you and your child to escape to and spend some time away from all the action until they are ready to join in again.  

Familiarise, familiarise, familiarise 

Sometimes the best thing to do is offer them a pre-taste of theatre. We offer pre-show familiarisation sessions lasting approximately 15mins. This includes a quick tour of the set and a relaxing area where games and activities can be enjoyed. This helps to settle anxiety and we find many children, who would otherwise never go to a theatre, decide to join the show afterwards.   

We have never taken the kids to a pantomime as I know C just would not sit through it and we could not face tuts and sighs of having to take him in and out when having a meltdown.  So, today, I tried Head2Head Sensory Theatre a sensory roadshow of amazing actors who sign the entire performance and are well versed in disabilities and special needs.  C did as I expected and although enjoyed the performance, would not sit still and was more interested in navigating the sets ensuring all the lines were nice and straight.  The actors took it in their stride and the other children absolutely LOVED the performance.  So much interaction and fun.  Thank you to everyone for another great recommendation.  Highly recommend this team for children with Learning Difficulties and ALL children. 

Mother of a child with Autism

Prepare them for the big day 

Make sure they know exactly what they are letting themselves in for.  Talk over the whole process, from going into the venue to coming out again and reassure them. Once you are booked, we will send you an resource pack. This enables you and your child to discuss the storyline of the show. 

Come and see for yourself 

We are an autism friendly theatre charity offering a new relaxed performance this Easter half term to families in East and West Sussex between 4 – 22 April.  

Find out more and book a show here.

For more information about why theatre is good for autistic children visit Autism.org.uk  

For more information about what we do read our article in Special Needs Jungle.