The following was originally a comment in response to a question on our digital FB flyer, but CJ got to writing so much in response, she figured she’d better just turn it into a blog post!
Rob Levit The concerts are volume sensitive and more than that, those that attend can participate in a way that makes sense for them, they can express themselves in a way that may not be traditionally socially acceptable at a more traditional concert. There may be blocks, art supplies, more movement, Vocalizations, etc. the audience can participate in a way that enhances their enjoyment, that’s my interpretation of sensory-friendly.
- CJ’s comment-turned-blog-post:
Steve, this is a great question, and one we love to answer and discuss! Rob, yes that’s a great description, thank you for jumping in to comment.
I’ve been watching for years, and I’m certain that no one has ever done something like this before (at least not in a sustainable, ongoing format and under the category of Community Music Therapy), so we are discovering more and more as we progress. This will be our 11th SensoryFriendly Concert coming up.
As the Director of The Musical Autist, I’d say what it really boils down to is ACCEPTANCE and ACCOMMODATIONS.
To add to what Rob said, we offer noise-reduction headphones and a nearby “sensory quiet room” for audience members who may be hyper-sensitive to sound. Also, we never use a “house” PA system, where sound comes from directions other than the stage. (Sometimes this can send me into a meltdown, so I know from personal experience that this is a necessary accommodation).
For audience members who are hypo-sensitive to sound, we encourage them to come up on stage and experience the “vibro-acoustic benefit” of instruments like the grand piano and upright bass. We train the performing artists to understand what types of common autistic behaviors they may encounter during their performance (i.e. wandering, hand-flapping, rocking, vocalizing, etc) and to perform no differently than if they were at any other top notch jazz or classical venue! In fact, many of these behaviors can be taken as a compliment. If they feel comfortable interacting musically with the audience, we encourage that as well.
Music therapists and other trained volunteers assist audience members with this type of “musicking” experience, if need be, so that parents, caregivers and other audience members can sit back and enjoy the performance.
Another thing that sets SensoryFriendly Concerts apart is the opportunity for people on the spectrum to perform during the concerts. Whether that be as the main, paid artist, or simply a small duet with their music therapist between numbers. We strive to give a platform for self-advocacy and musical self-expression. This is where the Community Music Therapy concept comes in. Going to a SensoryFriendly Concert is NOT receiving music therapy services, but one may observe and/or experience the positive outcomes of traditional music therapy, between a music therapist and client.
It’s all about respecting autism, really. There’s no reason why an autistic person should be excluded from a fine arts concert venue, simply because they can’t sit perfectly still.
Hence one of our mottos:
Equal Access to the Fine Arts!