Mother of two Edel Shaw was overcome with emotion when she brought her son Jack, fondly nicknamed Dash, to a new sensory friendly show created for children with autism at Dublin’s Helix Theatre.
The experience of watching nine-year-old Dash, who has moderate autism, clapping and hugging himself in response to the Beauty and the Beauty pantomime left the mum “completely overwhelmed”.
“It was so heart-warming. I can’t explain it – your heart just fills with complete joy,” she told Independent.ie.
“To see him so animated – the word heart-warming doesn’t even do it justice.”
Portarlington-based Edel, who also has a younger son Oisin (7), took a video of Dash last Christmas when he was “completely captivated” with the show, built in line with Irish Autism Action’s recommendations.
“As soon as the curtains went up and he saw the performers, his eyes went wide with delight. And when the chorus songs came on, his mouth just dropped open, he was mesmerised. He started hugging himself with happiness,” gushed Edel.
Last year’s show at the Helix theatre was Ireland’s first sensory-friendly panto. It was a complete success with both target audience and the parents of children with special needs.
Changes to the adapted performance included softer, brighter lighting and no sudden noises or bangs.
The accompanying music was also kept at a suitable level and staff were on hand to accommodate children who may need to move around more and may react in different ways.
These changes made the entire experience both “comfortable and enjoyable” for the Shaw family, who have praised both staff and performers involved.
“We had never actually braved bringing Dash to something like this before. But he loves singing nursery rhymes so much that, when I heard it on the radio, I thought I’d take the plunge,” revealed Edel.
“We tend to find it difficult to get to shows like this as people can be quite judgemental. Some might even say something if Dash shouts or moves about but the cast at The Helix took it all in their stride. It made the whole experience so relaxing.”
And Edel and her two sons enjoyed the show so much that they went back for the second performance last year – taking Dash’s dad who couldn’t make the first show.
“I was a bit nervous going on my own as my husband was working. But I ended up bringing our autism dog Thorpe who has a calming effect on Dash,” said Edel, who recorded her son’s reaction to show to his Dad.
“We thought he’d never make the end of the show – we thought he’d have a complete meltdown. But the only time he ever gave out was when the curtains came down!,” she laughed.
The Helix theatre is planning to stage a total of three sensory friendly performances of The Sleeping Beauty panto this year.
The festive shows have been arranged for December 23rd at 2pm, January 5th at 5pm plus a special sensory friendly school show on January 9 at 11am.
Fair City’s ‘Mondo’, actor George McMahon plays Harry Smiles and Lauren Nevin stars as Princess Aurora.