In a recent blog we reported on the fact that several cinema chains – Vue, Odeon, Cineworld and Showcase – are offering autism-friendly screenings in many of their establishments, in collaboration with the organisation Dimensions. Every month, each participating cinema shows a different film from a selection of new releases and classics including Pixar animations, Disney adventures and many more films suitable for all age ranges. There are also some showings particularly aimed at older viewers.

Building on this, we were delighted to find out that The Lyceum Theatre in London is hosting its third autism-friendly performance of The Lion King this August. The Lion King is the only West End Show to hold annual performances of this kind, and the 2013 and 2014 performances both sold-out. The specially adapted performance will welcome everyone in a friendly, supportive environment.

Disney’s preparations for this have involved them working closely with the National Autistic Society. Lyceum Theatre staff have had specialist training and on the day volunteers from the NAS and Disney will be positioned throughout the theatre to offer support.

The autism-friendly features include relaxed quiet areas outside the auditorium with large bean bags and sensory toys, which are available to visit at any point, and special adjustments to the lighting and sound in the show. Some of the actors come out at the beginning of the show to explain a little about the story and help the audience to understand what is going to happen. All these features aim to make the environment comfortable for all.

A dedicated booking website has also been created with a visual story to download to help audience members prepare for their trip. The website also features an account of one of the many families with complex needs who had a wonderful time at last year’s performance:

“I don’t know whether the cast and crew of Sunday’s performance realise quite what an important thing they did. This went way beyond allowing people with autism to experience a trip to the theatre. What this performance did was to make us normal. For a few hours, our children and family members were free to be themselves and to behave however they needed to, without fear of judgement or retribution. For a few hours, we did not feel the need to apologise for our own children. For a few hours, no-one felt they had to explain anything. For a few hours we had no worries. Hakuna Matata.”

At Freedom Care we are so heartened by initiatives such as this which, as the above writer puts it, makes families with complex needs “normal”.  We will continue to post such stories on this blog. Meanwhile, if there are ways that we can offer help and support to those in need of our services for mental health, do get in touch with us today.

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