Arts and Culture

The Lion King goes autism-friendly

In Oct. 2011, the TDF Accessibility Program began its Autism Theatre Initiative with a performance of Disney’s “The Lion King” in New York City. Since then, the program has seen enough success to continue putting on autism-friendly productions.

 Previously, there have been TDF productions in New York City, Houston, and Pittsburgh, and the number of autism-friendly shows is quickly beginning to rise due to their popularity.

On Oct. 11, Broadway in Boston put on their own autism-friendly performance of “The Lion King”. The show, performed at the Boston Opera House, was sold out to 2,600 guests.

The process was facilitated by assigning a trained volunteer from the Autism Speaks New England chapter to each usher and theatre employee.

 These performances are adapted to be autism and sensory-friendly by toning down the aggressive orchestras and harsh lighting. House lights are kept up throughout the performance, and erratic elements such as strobe lights are removed. 

 There is also a specific designated calming area for audience participants who become overwhelmed, which is also staffed by trained volunteers. In addition to this quiet area, there is an activity area designed to engage those audience members separately from the show.

 To make the performance even more accessible, 600 free tickets were distributed to families that could not afford them, and 1,900 were offered at discounted prices. The TDF accomplishes this by purchasing every seat in the theatre prior to the production and selling them back.

One unique aspect of Autism Theatre Initiative shows is social stories – downloadable Microsoft Word documents that outline the show for children with autism to create familiarity with the story in advance of the actual performance.

The Autism Theatre Initiative will put on more sensory friendly shows in more cities across America this season, including the new Broadway show “The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Nighttime.”

 Boston offers many more sensory-friendly experiences at both the theatre and museums, all of which can be found at ArtsBoston’s Accessibility page,