Michael Gravante has a passion for the theater. The high school student enjoys acting in on-stage roles for The Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham. Gravante has appeared in productions since elementary school and his mother, Elaine, says the high school performer will pursue theater once he enters college in 2019.
Gravante's autism spectrum disorder makes it a challenge to act on stage. The actor recently helped other autistic children appreciate the theater.when he performed in The Greater Boston Company's production of "Tiny Tim's Christmas Carol." The troupe made their holiday play more accessible for autistic and neurodiverse persons.
Making the Arts Accessible for Autistic Children
According to the CDC, one in 59 children has autism. These children cannot communicate or socialize well because of neurological differences. They are more sensitive to sounds, noises, and surprise elements. Autistic children also engage in repetitive behaviors. Many cannot fully enjoy theater plays because the sensory-rich productions overwhelm their senses.
Dori Robinson is the Theater Education Director for the Greater Boston Company. She said the cast and crew dimmed lighting and reduced the sound and the subtle changes made their performances more inviting for neurodiverse audiences. Cast members also warn the audience before frightening moments occur. The company allowed people to leave whenever they needed to do so. "Taking those dramatic moments and bringing them more to a middle level so that the audience can still have that same performance," Robinson said during a WBUR 90.0 interview."They're still experiencing it, just with slightly less dramatic elements so they can be a part of the show."
Robinson recently attended the Mass Cultural Council's Universal Participation (UP Initiative). The courses teach art organizations how to host performances for neurodiverse audiences. Robinson brought in an inclusion specialist, Erin Ronder Neves, to better serve autistic students. "Four years ago when I came in, I noticed that we have students with all different abilities and different backgrounds and I said, 'Wow, are we doing our best work for everyone here?'" Robinson said.
The Greater Boston Company Help Autistic Spectrum Students Appreciate the Theater
Robinson now trains staff to create lesson plans for neurodiverse students. She says feedback from their audiences has helped them succeed. For Gravante, the theater's changes have helped him to feel authentic when performing. He says neurodiverse people can enjoy their plays now, without feeling uncomfortable. His mother, Elaine, says the theater performances have saved her son. They have also given him a purpose. She says he now has a place where he feels at home.
Are you seeking talented professionals to work with children who are autistic? Contact us to see how we can help. And, if you are interested in learning more about this and related topics, visit the Behavioral Health section of our blog.
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