Specialized shows help expose children
with autism to the theater.
Taking a child with autism spectrum
disorder to enjoy a show can be tough, which is why a local theater
has spent the past year creating a show just for these
"We've really discovered that children
with disabilities have the least amount of access to culture and
the arts," says Jacqueline Russell, founder and artistic director
of the Chicago Children's Theatre. "This is a need that isn't being
With the Chicago Children's Theatre's
Red Kite project, children with autism can enjoy 45-minute
interactive, multi-sensory performances at the Chicago Children's
Museum April 17-May 8.
Russell, who leads a weekly drama class
for children with autism at Agassiz Elementary School on Chicago's
North Side, invited her students to a trial performance.
"They liked that the performers knew
their names," Russell says. "A lot of them loved the multi-sensory
aspects of the piece. We had paper snow, we wrapped the kids in
quilts and … we had clouds projected on the screen. We also
projected the kids' faces onto the screen. They loved seeing
themselves or their friends."
The Autism Program, a network of
resources for those with autism in Illinois, is developing a social
story to help kids prepare for their experience. "They'll be able
to see who the performers are, where they'll be sitting," Russell
Parents can receive the social story on DVD, in written form or
online at www.chicagochildrenstheatre.org when
they register for a performance. Russell also asks parents to share
a little about their child during registration so performers can
tailor the show to their needs and interests. Each child will have
the opportunity to participate in the wind-themed story.
Three to four performances will be held
daily, with each show open to seven or eight families.
Russell hopes that as the Red Kite
project grows, it will offer performances to reach kids with other
They plan to invite other museum
programmers to experience the performances to show what can be
done. "We hope that other museums will see there's a need, that you
can do this and the rewards of it are tremendous," Russell
For more information, call the theater
at (773) 227-0180.
Diana Xin is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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