A growing number of performing arts venues are offering programs for families affected by autism spectrum disorder and other sensitivity issues, which can involve challenges like hypersensitivity to light and sound. The Wharton Center for Performing Arts (Wharton Center) launched its sensory-friendly program initiative with Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat,” and they plan to continue with additional programing throughout 2018.
“We know that for people with sensory sensitivities – a group that includes many who are on the autism spectrum – attending a live theatre production can be a minefield of potential challenges”, said Wharton Center Executive Director Mike Brand. “In addition, we are hoping that the entire family can come to Wharton Center to relax and enjoy what we offer in a friendly, welcoming environment.”
Sensory-Friendly Performances (SFPs) feature accommodations such as lower sound levels and the elimination of potentially startling special effects and lighting. Sensory supports like earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones are available in the lobby. Audience members may also stand and move around as needed.
Cathy Blatnik, a Wharton Center patron, says many of the accommodations being made are exactly what her 13-year-old son Dominic needs for a good experience.
“They did a social story with pictures and that is awesome, so he knows what’s coming next,” she said, referring to “The Cat in the Hat’” at the Wharton Center. “He can turn the page himself and see what he’s doing next, and that’s how were going up the steps.”
If the theater is just too large for people with autism to feel comfortable, the Wharton Center offers activity space with puzzles and crafts.
“It’s not going to be too loud, the lights aren’t going to be too bright. But it doesn’t just benefit Dominic. It’s going to benefit so many people,” Blatnik said. “Adults, children, anybody who has any kind of sensory issue.”
To learn more, visit whartoncenter.com/sfp.