National Theatre of Scotland set for autism-friendly Christmas show

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THE National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) is to stage Scotland’s first ever autism-friendly Christmas show later this month.

Working in conjunction with the National Autistic Society (NAS) Scotland and theatre operator ON at Fife, the NTS has designed a festive production of A Christmas Carol to suit the needs of those who suffer from the condition.

Autism is a developmental disability that affects an estimated 50,000 Scots.

Known as the “invisible disability”, people with autism can outwardly appear to be coping well, while experiencing severe challenges in communication and making sense of the world around them.

Some children suffer extreme sensitivity to light and sound, as well as struggling with unpredictability and alterations to regular routine. This can result in severe agitation, disorientation, and even a full “meltdown”. When this happens in a public place, parents can receive unhelpful comments and reactions from the public, who mistake autism for bad behaviour.

To accommodate these sensitivities, the performance at The Old Kirk in Kirkcaldy, Fife, will see a reduction in the sensory intensity of the show with lighting and sound adjustments.

There will also be a “familiarisation” period prior to the show starting, which will entail a tour of the set for the audience and an introduction to the cast and puppets.

In addition to this, the audience will be able to spend time choosing a seating ­arrangement with which they are ­comfortable.

The production has been adapted, directed and designed by Graham McLaren and had its debut run at Govan Town Hall, Glasgow, last year.

It garnered five-star reviews, critical acclaim and two awards at the Critics Award for Theatre in Scotland ceremony earlier this year, in the categories of Best Ensemble and Best Production.

Sandra Webster, from Paisley – whose sons Lucas, 11, and Callum, eight, suffer from profound autism and Asperger syndrome respectively – provided expert advice to NTS in crafting the ­production.

Ms Webster, who is currently completing a psychology degree at Glasgow University, said: “By making some simple adjustments to their performance of A Christmas Carol, the National Theatre of Scotland has given families affected by autism a brilliant opportunity to enjoy the same Christmas entertainments many people take for granted, in an atmosphere where they don’t risk being judged.”

Christmas can be particularly hard for both sufferers and their families, as the change in routine and surroundings that come with the festive season can be extremely unsettling.

Dr Robert Moffat, national director of NAS Scotland, said: “NAS Scotland has campaigned vigorously over the past 12 months to encourage entertainment venues to become more accessible to people with autism.

“We were delighted to be approached by the National Theatre of Scotland and to be given the opportunity to work alongside Sandra, and other campaigners, to advise on this ground-breaking performance of A Christmas Carol.”

The 16 December performance of the Dickens classic is a one-off afternoon performance.

Marianne Maxwell, NTS audience development manager, said: “We are delighted to be working so closely with the National Autistic Society Scotland.”