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Preparing Children With Autism for a Successful Live Production

For the first time in 12 years since the establishment of Early Autism Project (EAP)
Malaysia, 42 of our children with Autism participated in a production, titled
“The Greatest Treasure”, in Pusat Sains Negara on the 30th of June
2018. The production was held in conjunction with EAP’s annual Family Day where
families of children with Autism came together and were appreciated for all the
sacrifices that they have made, by providing them an opportunity to experience
a school-like awards and musical day.

The production told a story where a group of boys went out on an adventure in
search for the greatest treasure. The story unfolds only to reveal at the end
that the greatest treasure lies before them – their families. Along with the
production, the children with Autism were also honoured for all their efforts
in learning through an award ceremony where each child was given a title and a
certificate centered around their strengths and achievements.

“The Greatest Treasure” production involved 42 children and each child, whether as a
dancer or actor, successfully presented their parts, creating a complete and
cohesive production that many enjoyed. Check out the following video for some of the highlights from the event!

In ensuring
the success of the production, the preparation of the children played a big role in ensuring a successful production and event. Preparing the
children for the production took us many months as each and every child is
different and have differing levels of Autism. For some of the children, there
were up to 18 areas to practice and tolerate!

1.     To cooperate to all instructions and expectations

2.     To be able to attend to the prompter in the front, in a group setting

3.     To be able to imitate all the actions of the songs

4.     For some to memorize their lines from their scripts

5.     To recognize their spot on the stage and to stay in that spot

6.     To tolerate a new location like Pusat Sains Negara

7.     To tolerate the drives to Pusat Sains Negara

8.     To tolerate the crowd in Pusat Sains Negara upon entering

9.     To tolerate being separated from the parents before the performance

10.  To tolerate being on stage with a crowd of friends

11.  To tolerate performing in front of a crowd, parents and family members

12.  To tolerate sounds of cheering and clapping

13.  To tolerate the mics and the sound system (that shocked us too!)

14.  To tolerate the changes in lighting
and stage lighting

15.  To tolerate the props being on stage and to behave appropriately with the props

16.  To tolerate wearing different costumes

17.  To tolerate the numerous moments of waiting

18.  To tolerate the transitions in and out of the hall

19.  To tolerate the multiple practices

20.  And lastly, the numerous changes, some of which were quite unpredictable!

In response
to these areas, it is therefore important to thoroughly prepare the children
and practice all necessary steps with each child.

1.     Consider the skill sets and the ability of each child and tailor the role
accordingly. With a child who is non-verbal or have limited speech and/or finds
standing for long periods of time challenging, it is important that the action
involved in the role assigned is simple and allows the child to sit throughout
his part in the production.

2.     The next step is also to put into
consideration what challenges that the
child may face
while being in the production, transitioning on and off the
stage, waiting for his/her turn, going onto the location and any other special
considerations for their sensory needs such as lighting, sound, or crowds.

3.     Once a list of challenges has been
created, identify the skills that the
child would need to learn
in order for them to tolerate and cope
appropriately. It is important to then break down the skill the child is
required to learn to tolerate into smaller parts and start teaching the
children from where they are successful. As they progress, we then increase the
challenge accordingly to meet the final expectation. This ensures that the
child feels successful in practice and on the actual day itself.

4.     Before the start of practice, a
clear line of communication should
be established to communicate the flow of events, giving predictability and
explaining the expectations to the child. In order to establish this, visuals
such as schedules, social stories, picture cues, word cues are used to guide
the child to what is expected. Each visual should be catered to the skill level
of the child (e.g. If the child can read, use visuals with words; if the child
has yet to learn how to read, use visuals with pictures).

5.     Running concurrently in practice are
the constant practice of the skills
for the child to cope, desensitization
of the child to any sensory challenges that they may face as well as practice of the flow itself with the
child. While practicing the flow of the production, it is important to be as
detailed as possible to include all waiting times on and off stage, lining up,
transitions on and off stage and their parts in the production (lines/acting/dance).
This way, this ensures that the child is clear and understands what is expected
of them on the actual day.

6.     When practicing, rewards and reinforcement are key in
ensuring the child is motivated to practice and that the expected behavior is
made clear and rewarding to the child.

For this
production, the following were the strategies we put in place:

1.     Each child would have practiced once per hour in their
session for about 6-8 weeks.

2.     There were 20+ group practices at the EAP centre.

3.     3 full rehearsals at Pusat Sains Negara.

4.     We used over 200 visuals (from schedules, to faces of the crowd, to stage

5.     More than 185 Social Stories

6.     15 production scripts

7.     8 versions of video models.

We have written a couple of sample social stories that you can use to prepare your child for an event like this. You can download it by clicking on the following link:

  1. Preparing For Family Day
  2. Preparing For A Dance Performance

All in all,
our first ever live production, “The Greatest Treasure” was a huge success due
to the amount of detail put into the planning and preparation for this event.
We would like to take this moment to acknowledge our amazing EAP Team for
making this event happen, and to our children for putting on a stellar
performance on the actual day. We can’t wait for what’s to come next Family