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Preparing Your Child With Autism To Watch A Live Show

There are many live stage productions for children all year round that would be a great experience for most children and their families. Here in Kuala Lumpur, we recently had several live shows such as ‘Disney On Ice’, the Moscow Circus, ‘Stuck’ by Oliver Jeffers, and so on! However, going to watch a live performance can be challenging for children on the autism spectrum. We believe that with proper breaking down of skills and adequate practice, your child with autism can have a successful trip to watch a live show at your local theatre!

Before taking your child for a live performance, it would be important to consider different factors and plan ahead in order to set your child up to be successful. Below are some simple strategies and tips that you can implement!

Plan the live performance around your child

While planning for your child to attend a live performance, it would be important to consider your child’s interest and overall skill sets. If the live performance is an activity your child would be interested in, it would be worthwhile planning for your child to attend. In choosing which show/ session for your child to attend, we would encourage you to consider the following factors:

  • Screening: Some theatre companies have special screening sessions that are specially adapted for children with autism or sensory/communication challenges. For instance, if you live in Kuala Lumpur, PJ Live Arts has ‘Relaxed Performances’ of some of their kids plays. Do check out their website for more information on upcoming shows!
  • Time: We would strongly encourage for you to select a screening time where it may be quieter and there may be less crowds, for examples, morning or matinee shows.
  • Seating: If you are able to pre-select your seats for the show, it would be good to select seats that are by the aisle or closer to the exit doors. This would ease transitions should your child require to exit the hall/auditorium for a break during the live performance.

Identify potential challenges for your child

In deciding whether to take your child for a live performance, it would be important to first consider your child’s current skill sets and identify potential challenges. Some children with autism may present tolerance challenges towards loud sounds/noises, crowds, bright lights, darkness, or unexpected elements that may happen during a live performance (e.g. the lights turning off suddenly, a character appearing/disappearing suddenly, etc). If you know your child presents any tolerance issues, you would need to have desensitisation practices with your child beforehand. If your child presents tolerance issues with loud sounds, you could also bring a set of noise-cancelling headphones or ear muffs for your child to wear during the performance, should the volume be too loud. Check out our previous blog article on How To Desensitise Your Child With Autism To Sounds.

Build your child’s interest in the live performance

Most child-friendly live performances and productions are based on cartoon characters and children’s storybooks. In the lead up to the actual live performance, we would encourage you to expose your child to the cartoon show, movie or the storybook the performance is based on. You can either read the storybook to your child or watch video clips online to help your child familiarise with the different characters and storylines. While going through the book or videos, do highlight to your child what the story/cartoon is about, who the main characters are, and what are the main characters are doing. You may have to repeat this process several times leading up to the actual live performance, to gradually build your child’s interest and strengthen their understanding.

Communicate to your child in an effective manner

It would be important to communicate to your child beforehand about the live performance. We would encourage you to make a simple Social Story on the performance, to include details such as:

  • What live performance your child will be watching (e.g. ‘Disney On Ice’)
  • Where your child will be going to watch the performance (e.g. Stadium)
  • Who will be going with your child to watch the performance (e.g. Daddy, mummy)
  • What the child will see (e.g. Waiting area, stage, lights, seats, people on stage, etc.)
  • What the child is expected to do (e.g. Sit nicely, quiet mouth, etc.)
  • What is the motivation/reinforcement for child after the performance (e.g. special snack or treat)

On the day of the live performance, it would be important to also have a visual schedule to show your child the flow of the event. If your child has learned how to read, you may write up the schedule for your child; but if you child has yet to learn how to read, you may need to draw it out or print out pictures of the different segments of the event/performance.

Additional helpful tips

We would strongly recommend thinking of potential behaviour triggers for your child, and to proactively practice strategies in order to prevent behaviours from happening. In addition to the strategies we have suggested above, here are a few additional tips to help you manage your child’s behaviour during the live performance:

  • Keep your child occupied during waiting times. You may need to pack some of your child’s preferred toys/activities to keep them busy during waiting times (e.g. while waiting to enter the hall/auditorium; while waiting for the performance to start).
  • Pack easy-to-eat snacks and drinks. Your child may get hungry or thirsty during the performance and may want a break. It’s always good to have some snacks on hand should your child be hungry or simply need a break.
  • Reinforce your child intermittently. Whenever you catch your child demonstrating the expected behaviours, it would be important to reinforce your child intermittently throughout the performance. At the end of the performance, if your child has demonstrated the expected behaviours, you could also reward your child (e.g. with a special snack or treat)!

We wish you the very best in planning a trip for your child and your family to the theatre to watch a live show! Please do not hesitate to contact us at 03-20940421 or at should you need anymore assistance!