Any circus show is bound to be an audio-visual spectacle and Cirque du Soleil never disappoint so it's little wonder that when they donated lots of tickets to our group of children and young people with Autism we were a little wary about how some of our members would cope.
Our youngest member (5 years old) came equipped with ear defenders and a few toys for distraction just in case. We often talk about the issues around sensory processing and that our main priority is to reduce stress and, of course, one way to do this is to provide distraction.
Though the show has loud music, singing, talking and sound effects the action is mesmerising enough (most of the time) to keep a 5 year old with Autism distracted for long periods of time. Our 5 year old was in turn captivated, amazed and periodically asking to go and get some coke!
Then came the interval - people everywhere and lots of chatter and movement and a lot less to captivate our boy; so what did he do? He ran! And he kept running (like Forest Gump) through the milling crowds; I stayed close behind him just observing and occasionally trying to warn him that he might run into someone (he couldn't hear me - he was running). At one point he stopped but still looked a little distressed, looking around puzzled and I asked "what do you need to do?", he replied "I don't know, I think I'm hot" and then ran back in the direction we had come. Now he was looking for the rest of our group; he ran through the rows of people queuing at the bar and he looked to me like someone running through a forest (he is so small compared with these adults standing in lines like trees). Eventually we rejoined the group, went back in to the show and he settled again.
So my reflection on this trip is a very simple observation:- he didn't need his ear defenders and distracting toys for the show, he needed them for the interval! As obvious as that seems now it wasn't at the time. It makes me wonder how often those of us supporting people with Autism make this kind of elementary mistake? We plan for the events that don't need planning and fail to plan for those that do.
When we returned him to his mum (after a short drive from Manchester to Castleton) he was floppy in her arms, sound asleep, safe and satisfied. We all had a great night and all say a big thank you to Cirque du Soleil for your generosity!