Kat Farmer took her son Monty, who has Asperger Syndrome and ADHD, to an autism-friendly of Disney's Aladdin on 29 August. Here, she shares her story of the experience.
Monty and Kat Farmer
“But he doesn’t look autistic….” Alas, it’s a familiar quote that I hear from many parents with children on the spectrum, which can be half of the problem - no, they mostly don’t “look” any different. The other half of the problem is that the spectrum is so wide, and the children that are on it are so, so diverse. Their needs are all very different.
But one thing that every mother and family of children with Autism have in common is that they are very used to things not going to plan. And just to make things that little bit more interesting, there’s no way of us knowing how that is going to manifest itself, which makes everyday outings, that neurotypical families can take for granted, frankly, difficult.
So when, as a family, we were invited along to a special autism-friendly performance of Disney's Aladdin, we were absolutely overjoyed.
It’s not that we don’t go to the theatre; Monty – who is 10 and has Asperger’s and ADHD – loves it, and we have been a number of times. It’s just that we’re never quite sure how it’s going to pan out, which means we have to have an extra adult situated in a nearby location (usually the husband in the lobby, working on a laptop) in case of a sudden escapee… which has happened.
Monty enjoying the autism-friendly performance
So what makes an autism-friendly performance different? Well, there are a number of things and, going back to all autistic children having alternative needs, everyone will appreciate a different thing.
Firstly, there's the option to go in early. Hallelujah. This, for us, was key. Monty likes to know where he’s going and he likes to be there early. Crowds are not Monty’s thing at all. He likes to know where all the exits are, he likes to count the lights, he likes to know exactly what is going on - particularly when it’s empty. We were able to go in 45 minutes early (which to some people sounds like torture!) but to him, feeling comfortable in his surroundings made all the difference.
The other major plusses for us were people manning the exits and looking after children in the foyer areas. I can’t recall one theatre or cinema trip when Monty hasn’t got up to go to the loo at least three times. Does he visit the bathroom this often normally? Of course not. Does he do it every visit to a show? Absolutely. Why? Who knows, but it’s something that just makes a usual trip that little bit more difficult.
Not this time… “Mum, I can go on my own – I know where I’m going and I can see” - and this obviously isn’t whispered to me. It never is, but not having to apologise to anyone and explain? Bliss.
And speaking of seeing, that was another difference: the lights weren’t as low, along with the sound not being as loud. Oh, and the main actors came out before the show to explain how the performance would run, who they were and other niceties that I know would have been very much appreciated by lots of families.
I will say though that Monty was most pleased with being able to know where all the exits were, as halfway through, there was a fire alarm, and hats off to all those amazing children and their families. You couldn’t have written it – could there be a less autistic friendly thing to happen? - but everyone was an absolute credit to their carers. Everyone coped absolutely brilliantly with it, and thankfully it was a false alarm (obviously Monty had to ask every member of staff until he found out “exactly” what had happened and was satisfied with the answer).
Not only was the performance perfectly suited to Monty, it was also a real treat for the rest of our family. Something that people rarely discuss is how autism affects siblings who are neurotypical. Monty has a 9 year-old brother and a 12 year-old sister, Hettie, who also wanted to give her review of the performance:
“This Summer my family and I went to see the special autism-friendly perfomance of Disney's Aladdin in London’s West End. All I can really say is that, being the sister of a boy who Asperger’s and ADHD, it was amazing because I got to be around people who are having the same experience as me.
"What I mean is that nobody would get annoyed if Monty had to stand up to go to the loo, or nobody would stare if someone was having a tantrum. These are just a few of the things that make a visit to the theatre ten times easier, so if you have anyone close in your life who has any kind of Autism, I really would recommend seeing one of these shows in the future.”
The Farmer family
Everything about the performance was superbly thought out, but I think everyone would agree – the main crux is that everyone there was with someone who has Autism, someone who “gets it”.
Just to be able to go to a performance and know that you or your child are not going to be judged was priceless. Truly, truly priceless. No eye rolling, no huffing, no having to explain that your child isn’t naughty, rude or horrid – just slightly different. Words cannot describe how special that makes an outing.
So thank you to absolutely everyone who was involved in the special showing – from our family, we can’t thank you enough.
Prince Edward Theatre