For parents of a child with autism, it can be overwhelming to visit a grocery store, let alone a live show where other audience members expect them to sit quietly. That's why Chicago Children's Theatre is presenting a Chicago first: a special performance of The Elephant and the Whale set aside for children with autism and their families.
"Children with autism can be vocal, active, unpredictable," says CCT's Artistic Director Jacqueline Russell. "We're having a performance that is only open to families who have children on the spectrum to have a theater experience in a judgment-free zone."
The Elephant and the Whale tells a story of an unlikely friendship using puppetry and innovative sound design. "Because this show is very visual and moves at a really fun pace, I think that makes it particularly interesting for this special audience," she says.
Families who attend the May 4 performance will receive a social story to help prepare their child. Although the show's sound and lighting will be modulated for those with sensory issues, CCT also will designate a "quiet room" in case of sensory overload, equipped with comfortable seating and sensory toys.
"There might be one child who really doesn't want to sit and watch the show and another who might sit and completely take in everything," Russell says. "It's really being able to accommodate the audience the best you can."
But the real point of the performance is for families to have a live theater experience together-without fear of dirty looks-and opening up a new world to kids with special needs.
"You never know what exciting experience and transformation might come about for your child," Russell says.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.