Show just for kids with autism

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 children.

“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 served.”

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 says.

Parents can receive the social story on DVD, in written form or online at 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 disabilities.

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 says.

For more information, call the theater at (773) 227-0180.

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