His First Time at the Theatre

Child Theatre1My son Ethan has fallen in love with the Gruffalo series. It is safe to say that, at times, our house has been taken over by the Gruffalo and the big bad mouse. From reading the books to watching the DVDs, making our very own Gruffalo teddy bear and pom-pom figures, and even taking a walk through a real-life Gruffalo trail. You name it, we have done it.

When I saw that The Gruffalo’s Child was being shown at our local theatre, I was quick off the mark to make sure we had tickets. If ever a new experience arises that Ethan has never done before, I try to make sure that we put our names down for it.

Activites such as going to the cinema or to the theatre can be a no-go for families who have children with autism or other special needs. There is such a huge level of planning ahead required: running through what will happen, how you’ll get there, etc. Then, by the time you get to the place, your child might be too overwhelmed by the environment to actually stay and enjoy the movie or play.

The day finally arrived for us to go and see Ethan’s first theatre show; it is always interesting to see what Ethan’s reaction will be. We prepared him for two days, telling him what we were going to see, where the show would be held, and who we would see once we were there. It helps Ethan cope a bit better when he knows what will be happening ahead of time.

We got to the theatre and there were a lot of excited children captivated by the thought of what they were about to see. There were also pictures of The Gruffalo Child on sticks; we got Ethan a stick that he immediately fell in love with and held proudly.

Stepping into the theatre, I looked around for our seats, and then realised that the tickets I had ordered were for seats located one row from the front. One part of me was really pleased with the fact that we were up-close and personal with the characters, while the other part of me thought, “How will Ethan deal with the proximity of our chairs to the stage?”

By this point, I had Ethan in my arms–he was unsure about the lighting in the room, the number of people, and the level of noise being given off. When we’re home, depending on where Ethan is in the house, he usually has to have every light on before he can walk around confidently. The sound of people chatting and laughing is something that I can filter out for the most part, but for Ethan it can be unbearable for him as he struggles to process sounds.

After finding our seats, we tried to put Ethan in the middle seat to stop him from wandering off mid-play. However, he refused to leave my lap, clinging onto me for dear life. With his hands over his ears, he sat on my lap, repeating the words, “don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me,” over and over again. He felt safe and comforted in this position.

Sure, other people saw Ethan, his body language, and his size  (he’s very tall for his age), and likely wondered why he was acting this way. I didn’t care–my main thought was whether Ethan would be able to enjoy the story that he had come to love, or whether he would have a complete meltdown before it even began. I hugged him tightly, rubbing his hand to calm him, and told him about the book to familiarise him with what he was about to see. The lights dimmed; everyone fell silent.

Ethan spent the first five minutes with his hands over his face, and no amount of coersion was able to get him to take his hands away. I was just happy that he was still sitting. If it meant he had to watch the whole play through his fingers, so be it.

As the play went on, he slowly but surely let his hands down. He became engrossed in the characters, the storytelling, and the singing and dancing. He wasn’t so keen for me or his daddy to sing along with the story or get him involved. It was very much on his own terms or not at all.

As his mum, I was so happy that he was enjoying this new experience. He adapted so well to the environment, going from being completely overwhelmed to clapping along, laughing his little socks off, and generally interacting with the characters. It was such a heartwarming thing to experience with him: I couldn’t help but smile proudly, with a little happy tear in my eye,  to see him so happy and enjoying something that he relates to in such a huge way.

Ethan seems to adjust really well to new situations, so that will continue to drive me to put him outside of his comfort zone. It will be small baby steps–nothing too extreme–but things that I know he will enjoy and love. I guess skydiving is a few years away yet!!


{The original version of this post appeared first on Mummy Logs.}

Charlotte Llewellyn

Founder at Mummy Logs
Charlotte is mum to a little boy who has autism. When they're not taking on the world, one day at a time, they can be found baking, reading stories and playing with Play-Doh. Coffee and cake are the answer to all of her problems; along with reading, shopping, blogging and laughing out loud.

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