‘Lion King’ puts on show designed for autistic kids

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‘Lion King’ puts on show designed for autistic kids

NEW YORK - Families of autistic children have a new place to engage their sons and daughters - Broadway.

The Theatre Development Fund, a nonprofit focused on providing access to live theater, announced Wednesday it will present an autism-friendly performance of “The Lion King.”

The Oct. 2 matinee of the musical at the Minskoff Theatre will be slightly altered to make those with autism more comfortable, including cutting jarring sounds and strobe lights.

“We are so excited about this and, at the same time, I’m apprehensive because no one has ever done this before,” said Lisa Carling, the director of the fund’s accessibility program. “No one knows what the effect will be when you put 500 to 600 children and adults on the autism spectrum in an over 1,600-seat theater.”

Three quiet areas with beanbag chairs and coloring books, staffed by autism experts, will be created inside the theater for those who might feel overwhelmed. Ticket prices have also been reduced, with the top seats going for $79, down from $133.

The fund bought every seat in the theater to gauge interest and word-of-mouth has already left few seats available. Organizers, who say this is the first time such an experiment has been attempted on Broadway, want to see if it should be replicated.

“We’ll be looking at the dynamics of the audience, seeing if everyone is having a good time,” said Carling. “We want it to be a very welcoming, nonjudgmental environment.”

Autism disorders strike one in 100 children, according to U.S. government estimates. Children with the diagnosis are often sensitive to loud noises and harsh lights, and find it hard to sit still or remain quiet.

Alicia Hart, an advocate for children and adults with autism and author of “Brains, Trains & Video Games: Living The Autism Life,” welcomed the experiment, calling it “great leap into the future.”

“Theater, in and of itself, is a phenomenal vehicle for children with autism,” she said from her home on Merritt Island, Fla. Autistic children, she explained, must learn in public to modulate their voices, bodies and facial expressions - just like performers.

“In essence, they’re really acting - they’re acting their way through life. This is the greatest performance that they’ll ever give and it doesn’t stop,” said Hart. “The theater is not used enough as a teaching tool and this is going to open a lot of doors.”

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