Three people in a theatre

A visit to the theatre can be an exciting outing. Here is a short guide on how theatre staff can make the experience more comfortable and rewarding for people with autism. You might find it useful to read our information What is autism?

What theatres can do

We believe that theatres can and should make reasonable adjustments to enable people with autism to enjoy their theatre experience.

On some occasions a person with autism might make excessive noise which affects other people’s enjoyment of a performance. In order to meet the needs of those with autism and those of other audience members we recommend that:

  • all staff attend an autism awareness session
  • suitable seating is provided, for example at the end of an aisle to enable a person to move away if needed with minimal intrusion to other audience members
  • a quiet room is available nearby
  • the person with autism, their parent or carer is asked if they need assistance or adjustments.
  • visual supports are provided to explain what behaviour is expected at the theatre. This should explain that individuals may be asked to leave if they make an excessive amount of noise
  • there is a policy in place that includes staff giving the individual a warning that if excessive sound continues they will be asked to leave.

Theatre staff should only ask people to leave if the reasonable measures are not improving the situation.

What staff can do

  • keep sentences short and to the point. ‘Would you like me to show you where the toilet is?’ could be shortened to,‘toilet?’
  • recognise that a person with autism might have trouble understanding some jokes, sarcasm or common turns of phrase. Sayings like ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ could be really confusing
  • some people with autism enjoy talking about their favourite topic. If you’d like to, and if you have time, listen. You may need to set a time limit on this, or deliberately change the subject
  • if a person is feeling anxious, ask if there’s anything you can do to help, or suggest a quiet room where they can go to relax
  • understand that ‘odd’ behaviour is often the result of a person with autism trying to understand the world, take in information or cope with sensory issues. Don’t let it put you off getting to know someone with autism
  • a sympathetic, understanding and friendly attitude from the staff can be very reassuring and welcoming
  • if a person with autism becomes distressed or agitated during a performance consider asking people in the neighbouring seats to move, as trying to move someone with autism when they are feeling particularly anxious could cause more problems.

Practical suggestions

Booking form
Ask visitors to let you know ahead of their visit if they have a disability. There should be space on the form for people to be able to say if they do have a disability which you should know about, and what the disability is.

Say that you will do what you can to make their theatre visit as pleasant as possible.

If you have already located a good quiet room you may like to let the visitor know that it exists to give them the choice of booking a seat nearer to that area.

Before the visit
People with autism often get anxious about going to new places. An introduction to the theatre, ahead of the performance, can help to manage this anxiety. This could be the day before or earlier on the day of the performance. Be open to suggestion and what works for both parties.

You could take photos of the outside and inside of the building for families and schools to look at before the visit. These could be available on your website.

Explain what visitors can expect from a trip to the theatre, and what quiet rooms or facilities are available. Have a person who can be the dedicated point of contact for visitors who have additional questions or needs. This will make it easier for those visitors to get a quick answer to their questions before their visit.

On entry
Have some cards ready at the box office to indicate that the visitor has autism. These may be just a plain coloured card. The parent or carer can collect one of these and hand it to the usher near to where they are sitting to alert them to the fact that they should make allowances if needed. There are NAS Autism Alert and Autism Info cards which some people will use.

Quiet room
Ensure that your staff know where they can direct people to a quiet room or space. These areas need to be easily accessible from where the person is sitting. Consider any lighting, smells or distractions in that area which might affect someone with autism (for example the smell of foyer food).

Interval
If a parent or carer is on their own with someone with a disability check to see if they would like to have a drink or ice cream brought to them, as it may be too difficult for them to get to the vendor.

Cast and crew
Front of House should alert the company manager so that they can tell the cast and crew that some attendees coming to the performance have autism and, if possible, where they will be sitting.

Training
Our Cultural Access Manager can offer training and consultancy on how to make your theatre autism friendly and what adjustments are needed to your performance.  Please contact her on 07825 193 204 or email heather.wildsmith@nas.org.uk.

Last reviewed: 22 January 2016