UNT offers expertise to Dallas Children's Theater to create sensory friendly programming for special-needs audiences

Latest: Haylie Miller from the UNT Kristin Farmer Autism Center is featured in this video from WFAA-TV about the Dallas Children's Theater's performance of "Go Dog Go!"

Bright lights and loud noises in a theater might be uncomfortable to a child with autism.

To make the theater experience more enjoyable, staff members from the University of North Texas Kristin Farmer Autism Center are serving on a panel of experts from the Dallas/Fort Worth area helping the Dallas Children's Theater plan its first-ever season of sensory friendly programming.

Kevin Stewart, director of outreach and training at the Kristin Farmer Autism Center, and Lauren Mathews, a speech-language pathologist at the center and a faculty member in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, serve on the theater's advisory council to offer their expertise. The first sensory friendly production -- an adaptation of P.D. Eastman's famous children's book Go, Dog. Go! -- takes place at 1:30 p.m. March 1 (Saturday) at Dallas Children's Theater's Rosewood Center for the Arts, 5938 Skillman St. Pre-show activities will be available in the lobby one hour before the show. Tickets are $5.

"Until now, parents of a child with autism may not have gone to Dallas Children's Theater or to a play anywhere because they know the bright lights are going to have an impact on their child," Stewart said. "But parents can take their kids to an event like this and feel involved in the community. And for a child with autism, this could be a great learning opportunity. It's going to be beneficial for everyone in the long run."

Lights, volume and seating arrangements will be adjusted to make the experience more comfortable, and a "quiet room" will be provided for children who need a break.

UNT experts also helped the theater develop a "social story" -- an outline of what to expect at the performance. A week or two before the event, parents can use the social story to prepare their children and show them pictures of the space, Stewart said.

Employees from the Kristin Farmer Autism Center and students from the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences who have experience in working with children with autism will volunteer at the event, providing support to parents and theater staff.

"We have a passion for helping people with autism, and we're glad we're able to help the Dallas Children's Theater plan this experience," Stewart said.

The performance was made possible through a national grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Theatre Communications Group. The grant will allow Dallas Children's Theater to produce three shows this year.

Local partners include Autism Speaks, the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at UT Southwestern, UNT Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, UNT Health Science Center and the UNT Kristin Farmer Autism Center, Children's Medical Center and the Dallas Museum of Art.

About Dallas Children's Theater
Rated by TIME Magazine as one of the top five theaters in the nation performing for youth, Dallas Children's Theater features paid professional actors performing for an annual audience of 250,000 young people and their families through main stage productions, a national touring company and an arts-in-education program. As the only major organization in Dallas focusing solely on youth and family theater, DCT builds bridges of understanding between generations and cultures, instilling an early appreciation of literature, art and the performing arts in tomorrow's artists and patrons.

Sensory Friendly Performance Schedule
Go, Dog. Go! -- 1:30 p.m. March 1 (Saturday)
Stuart Little -- 4:30 p.m. July 12 (Saturday, July 12)
Fall date to be determined
Ticket Prices: $5 per person
Box Office: 214-740-0051

-Ellen Rossetti, News Promotions