Sensory Inclusive Programs are not segregated performances for individuals solely with sensory sensitivities or autism. These programs embrace the concepts of Universal Design with the ultimate goal of creating a shared experience for an audience, regardless of one’s abilities.
Broadly, these shows are designed to serve any person with a physical, emotional, intellectual, or developmental disability.
Sensory Inclusive Programs are designed and modified to address the sensory sensitivities that are often found in children, adolescents, and adults who have a variety of diagnoses including:
A large part of this population will be those individuals who have an Autism diagnosis. In the USA, 1 in 40 school-age children have an autism diagnosis – approximately 2 million children. And in the first USA study of autism in adults, the CDC estimates that 2.2% of American adult have an autism spectrum condition (approximately 1 in 45) or another 2.5 million people. And Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups
Sensory Processing Disorder refers to a disruption in how the nervous system receives and responds to sensory input. At least 1 in 20 adults in the USA have a sensory processing disorder without any other physical or intellectual disability. That’s approximately 16.5 million people.
Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are terms we hear quite often. And some of us use them as an excuse when we lose focus or procrastinate on whatever we need to get done. However, these are real and serious concerns that impact the lives of millions of people. About 5.4 million children and as many as 9 million adults in the U.S. have this diagnosis.
And then there are others with a disability diagnosis who are able to experience the arts in a much more user-friendly way including people with developmental and intellectual disabilities…and that’s another 12 million Americans.
PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a term we often associate with veterans. However, this diagnosis impacts a much larger population. PTSD is a mental health condition that may occur in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. This can include natural disasters, serious accidents, war, poverty, disease, sexual assault, or serious injury. This affects 1 in 11 persons or 11 million people.
Early on-set Dementia, Dementia, or Alzheimer’s Disease can cause a person to experience memory loss and confusion which can make them fearful and unsettled. Statistics show that 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 experience a form of dementia…that’s 5.8 million Americans.
Mental health concerns affect millions of people in the U.S. each year. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports:
20.6%of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019 (51.5 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults.
5.2%of U.S. adults experienced serious mental illness in 2019 (13.1 million people). This represents 1 in 20 adults.
16.5%of U.S. youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016 (7.7 million people)
The total number of individuals impacted by mental health concerns each year is approximately 72 million Americans. For many of them, social reintegration is difficult and finding welcoming opportunities to engage in their community can be challenging.
The numbers reveal the need for sensory inclusive programs.
Million Children with Autism
Million Adults with Autism
Million Sensory Processing Disorders
Million Children with ADD/ADHD
Million Adults with ADD/ADHD
Million Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities
Million Other Diagnoses
A Bit of History
Sensory Inclusive Programs are designed to welcome all patrons – those with and without disabilities – into a supportive, judgement free environment through physical and cultural modifications. A regular theatrical or musical performance may be too loud, too bright, or too busy for people with autism, sensory processing disorders, or other intellectual or developmental disabilities.
A Bit of History
The Autism Theatre Initiative (ATI) of Theatre Development Fund (TDF) in New York City pioneered the first autism friendly Broadway musical with The Lion King in 2011. This idea was born in the heart and mind of Lisa Carling, the director of TDF’s Accessibility Programs. She listened to parents describe their negative experiences when trying to bring their children with autism or sensory sensitivities to theatre performances designed for a general audience. Working with autism specialists and individuals with autism, ATI (now known as TDF’s Autism Friendly Performances Program – www.tdf.org/autism) discovered ways to modify productions to be more sensory inclusive. The script was never changed and the integrity of the show was never compromised. Modifications were made to certain technical aspects but the show remained intact.
Today, theatres across the U.S. are offering Sensory Inclusive Programs. These presentations are designed to create a performing arts experience in a comfortable, relaxed, judgment-free zone that is welcoming to individuals and families with children who have developmental disabilities that create sensory sensitivities. These are not exclusive, segregated performances for individuals solely with sensory sensitivities or autism.These are inclusive performances that embrace the concepts of Universal Design with the ultimate goal of creating a shared experience for an audience, regardless of one’s abilities.The term that best describes these shows is Sensory Inclusive.
What’s in a Name?
Over the last decade, there are many terms that have been used to describe these types of performances. Many have become buzz words in the performing arts industry but there isn’t a universal understanding of what they mean. This lack of a standardized language creates confusion about what “this” is. This confusion most significantly impacts the families and people we are seeking to serve.To effectively reach this diverse and unique audience, standardized terminology is extremely important. The term Sensory Inclusive Performance is the one being adopted by the experts who are working in this field.