As a family, we have attended the Autism-Friendly Performance of Disney's The Lion King twice now with our son Kieran who is nineteen. Like a lot of people who live with autism, Kieran had never been able to visit the theatre before, let alone to see a musical on the scale of The Lion King! We will be returning again on the 30 August when The Lion King hold their third dedicated Autism-Friendly Performance - we can't get enough of it! Here's why...
Like a lot of families Disney has played a big part in entertaining us, the films and characters have always been popular in our house. Like most people, Kieran knows all the films, songs and characters but unlike most people, if Kieran hears one of the popular songs he's likely to run from the room with his hands on his ears. He would find it hard to sit through a film and would find a trip to Disneyland almost impossible because he likes these things too much. They overwhelm him.
When we first heard about the Autism-Friendly Performance of The Lion King we had a lot to think about before booking. When you're accompanying someone who lives with autism to anything, you try to prepare for every eventuality. This is really hard when you're introducing them to something completely new because what if he simply couldn't bear to be in the room when it started? Which one of us would miss the show when we had to take Kieran outside? This is all the usual stuff we have to think about.
The train and tube journey was straightforward; Kieran is a good traveller and loves London. Before you attend the Autism-Friendly Performance of The Lion King, you are invited to look over the visual story which details your entire trip to the Lyceum Theatre - from what the theatre looks like when you arrive to how you get to your seat. This helped us prepare Kieran for his visit to The Lion King so he was familiar with the process before we arrived. Despite this, there was still an underlying nervousness. This started to disappear when we got to the theatre and were greeted by theatre staff and NAS volunteers who were on hand throughout the afternoon in dedicated quiet areas should anyone have needed to leave their seats during the show. This was really appreciated - we were made to feel really welcome in a place that we wouldn't normally visit.
We took our seats, apprehensive still. Before the performance began George Asprey and Brown Lindiwe Mkhize who play the roles of Scar and Rafiki came on to introduce the show - they made us feel very welcome too! The opening song, The Circle of Life where the audience witness an extraordinary array of animals parade down the aisles, is something we knew Kieran couldn't cope with! We expected him to run away but instead, he hid under a coat. He hid under a coat for several parts of the show and only tried to run away a couple of times. Although Kieran has very limited speech, he is enthusiastic when talking about The Lion King - Simba, Nala, Scar and Mufasa and all the colourful costumes, masks and puppets!"
Going to see The Lion King on stage was a real treat. For a few hours you can forget the worries of your child whooping, calling out and assisted toilet visits because everything here is normal behaviour. Even before you go through the door, the streets and cafes near the theatre are buzzing with theatre-goers. It's difficult to describe the feelings of solidarity this gives when you're in a 2,000 seat theatre surrounded by people in a similar situation to you and what an enormous weight is lifted when you don't have to worry about the attitudes of others.
The second time we went to the show we were all far more relaxed and Kieran spent far less time under his coat! He didn't try to run away either. Instead, we were able to sit and enjoy the show with no worries at all - Hakuna Matata! We've been to other relaxed performances since - including plays we would never have considered if we hadn't have been able to experience The Lion King. It's now as important a date in Kieran's calendar as Christmas or Halloween.
All the family will be at the show again on the 30 August. From George Asprey's introductory speech on how the performance has been adapted to suit the needs of those with autism to the exhilarating final curtain, we will experience every emotion together. Kieran will still hide when Rafiki tells us that Simba is still alive and we will have a fantastic time.