Now Reading: Autism Friendly Performance of The Lion King on Broadway — My Review? No, My Timeline

Autism Friendly Performance of The Lion King on Broadway — My Review? No, My Timeline

Ok, so an many of you know Kyle along with me & the wife and his autism service dog Paula went to see the first ever autism-friendly performance of a Broadway play last Sunday when we saw The Lion King.  This was sponsored by the Theater Development Fund (TDF).   I’m not going to review the play.  It was awesome.  I’m not even going to review the experience.  You can read about the experience in this NY Times piece and this NY Times piece, you can read about another parents experience/ review here (she is a much better writer than me 🙂 and you can see a video story on the experience in this NBC Nightly News piece

What I’m going to give you is a blow by blow timeline of the 18 hours of our lives before, during and after the play.  I don’t know why anybody would want to read this, but I felt like writing it, so here goes…
Saturday 11pm
I read an email from the TDF folks who are putting on this special performance warning me that there’s a bunch of events going on in Manhattan tomorrow that may affect traffic/ driving to the theater and recommending I take a train into Manhattan.
I do my own Internet research and realize that we are F-CKED.   The MS bike tour is going on ALL around Manhattan and all the main highways will be closed. That along with a bunch of street festivals including a polish (Pulaski?) parade put me into full panic attack mode.  Why?  Because Kyle’s never been on a train…and the wife hasn’t been on a NYC train or subway since before 9/11/01.
So if going to a Broadway play with Kyle and service  dog for the first time ever isn’t stressful enough now let’s add in his first train ride??!!
Saturday 11:30pm
I wake the wife up out of a deep sleep to drag her into my misery about the traffic vs. train. She’s freaked out about the train. I’m freaked out about the potential for being stuck in HOURS of traffic.  We go to sleep arguing with each other with no decision made.  And we’re both cursing the TDF and the Lion King people. “They must’ve known. That’s why they were so willing to give up a performance.  They knew they couldn’t sell it out because of these events so they said let’s give it to the autistic kids…”

(of course they had no idea when they planned this months before.  but at 11:30pm on a Saturday night mom & dad were blaming everyone!  🙂

Sunday 7:30am
Kyle wakes up and therefore so do we.  I declare to the wife that we will roll the dice and attempt to drive only because I know my way around Manhattan and I know lots of short cuts and secret ways to go.  But I say to the wife, the show starts at 1pm, “we MUST leave here by 10am at the latest” (but in my head I’m thinking 10:30 🙂  “If for some amazing reason we get there really early we’ll go out to breakfast or something.” (You should know that on a good day it takes about 45-60 minutes to get from my house to Times Square and I’m giving us 2 1/2 hours to get there on this “gridlock alert” day
Sunday 7:30-10:19am
We proceed to all shower, get ready, and pack a boatload of snacks for Kyle.  I’m mapping out my secret driving route and listening to traffic reports all morning saying “avoid driving into Manhattan at all costs.”  We are also in the middle of intense potty training, taking Kyle every 20 minutes and making him wear underwear, not pull-ups.  We bring a few extra sets of clothes for Kyle as well and at the last minute we decide to give ourselves a break and put Kyle in a pull-up before we leave the house.  So if he has an accident at a Broadway theater it won’t ruin our day. 
Sunday 10:19am
Wife, Kyle, autism service dog Paula, and I all pack into our minivan (along with a bag for the theater, a bag for the car, a garbage bag for pee-pee clothes just in case, books, toys,  etc., etc.) and prepare for a 2+ hour drive to Manhattan… And we proceed to get there in 51 minutes.  My route was BRILLIANT!  And we somehow avoided ALL the madness.
Sunday 11:00am
So we are driving in the Times Square area and I had also done research on the best/cheapest/ closest parking lots to the Lion King theater and I’m looking to make a right on w45th street and we realize that you can’t drive past W47th street anymore because Mayor Bloomberg made all of Times Square one of those stupid pedestrian only zones with tables and chairs.  (real New Yorkers hate that sh-t!). Just as I’m cursing Mayor Bloomberg out of the corner of my eye, I see a parking spot on the street in Times Square!  “you were never allowed to park over here before?!”I triple check the street signs and wouldn’t you know it, it’s an honest to goodness legitimate parking spot in Times Square and on Sundays it’s absolutely FREE!!  “Thanks Mayor Bloomberg!”
Sunday 11:00- 11:30am
So now we’ve got 2 hours to kill in Times Square.  Kyle hasn’t been to the potty in about an hour so we stop in a Starbucks to use the bathroom. We get a table in the back by the restrooms. Mommy sets up a bunch of snacks and i take Kyle to the bathroom.  He’s dry. (now remember we put him in a pull-up just for today)  Big praise.  “Good job staying dry, buddy!  Do you have to go pee-pee?  Or do you need to sit down and do cockie?”. Before I even finish those sentences he’s pulling up his pants by himself and wants to leave the bathroom.  “Ok, I guess you don’t need to go.  Good job pulling up your pants! Let’s wash hands and go have some snacks…”
We head out to the table, I attach him to the dog, and as usual Kyle’s got no appetite and doesn’t want to eat anything and just like at home when he’s strapped in his seat at the dinner table, he’s grabbing my hand to detach him from Paula and I’m saying “no Kyle you’ve got to eat something, you barely ate any breakfast” and I look down and he’s peeing thru his pants….  WTF?!  I just took him, not 5 minutes before and he’s got a pull-up on.  How did he soak his pants?  Here’s why I think he did.  (1) Due to the potty training he’s learning to hold it all instead of piddling a little here and a little there.  So he saves it all into one GIANT pee and (2) he pulled his own pull-up on and I didn’t check it carefully so he must’ve pulled it up all half-assed… and therefore his pants are soaked. 
Thankfully mommy had clothing change #1 in the backpack and I take him back into the Starbucks bathroom  and take off his soaked pants and socks (socks? WTF?) and put on a fresh pair and we move on with our day…
Sunday 11:30am-12:30pm
So Starbucks is kinda a bust but the weather is GORGEOUS so we decide to walk thru the Times Square area.  Kyle always loves being in NYC and looking up at all the stuff.   We walk thru that new pedestrian area that I was cursing earlier and find a table with 3 chairs. 
And the 3 of us lifelong New Yorkers sit like tourists in Times Square… and it was GLORIOUS.  Then Mommy says “oooh there’s a McDonalds across the street.  You guys wait here and I’ll get Kyle nuggets, fries and a milkshake.  Well this time the timing was right and the appetite was there because that kid ate almost everything and was really enjoying his shake…until our specially trained autism service dog saw another regular dog and our girl jumped up spilling Kyle’s shake.  “Bad dog!”  See, service dogs aren’t perfect…  🙂
Sunday 12:30pm- 1:03pm
We walk to the Minskoff Theater where the Lion King is playing and now we are in our element.  Tons of kids on the spectrum, tons of volunteers in bright yellow shirts with PECS pictures strapped to their waists.  We take another bathroom break.  He’s dry.  And then we find our seats at the back of the Orchestra level.  I had purposefully got us aisle seats.  We all get settled in.  Kyle in the middle.  Mom & dad on either side, snacks ready to dispense to Kyle.
Sunday 1:03pm- 3:55pm
Ok so the play starts at 1:03pm, 3 minutes late. That didn’t bother us or Kyle but I’m sure there were other ASD kids who noticed that it didn’t start on time. 🙂
The play itself?  It’s great!  It’s the Lion King on Broadway.  What’s not to like?  I’ve seen it before and it’s beautiful and I didn’t notice anything different about this performance… On the stage.    Big difference in the audience!  Lol. Lots of talking, yelling, stimming, etc. 

I recorded some audio of what the audience sounded like.  You can listen to it here.

Did Kyle like the play?  He liked some of it. He had a hard time about 1/2 way thru the first act. He wanted out of there. And he let us know that by kicking the chair in front of him and trying to grab the man’s head in front of him.

And in most situations that would mortify us. Of course, we apologized, but this time the man, a dad to a teenage asd boy sitting next to him said “no problem, we’ve been there” and we knew he meant it.
By the way, his kid, the ASD kid in front of us was having a BLAST!  It was obvious that he knew the lion king music and every time he  heard a song he knew he would LIGHT UP and sign something to his dad to the effect of “I know this song!” and the dad would smile back and nod “yep!”
Anyway after he almost hit the nice dad we left our seats (which you would NORMALLY would never do at a Bway play) and were immediately met by a volunteer who escorted us out of the theater and to one of the “quiet areas” they had set up with chairs, toys, coloring pages, etc.   Very Nice Touch. They also had the play viewable on monitors.  There were numerous families out there and there seemed to be no pressure or stress from the parents that their kids were missing the show.   It was a vibe like, my kid needs a break, we’ll sit out here til he’s ready to go back in.  Kyle wanted no part of the “quiet areas” he plopped himself in front of a big window that overlooked Times Square and just looked out at Manhattan… and so did we…  About  15 minutes later we went back in and caught the rest of the first act. 
Took another potty break during the intermission.  And the second act he made it all the way thru without having to leave the theater.  Did he love it?  Was it life changing?  No… but Kyle seemed to enjoy a some of the songs.  There was one point when he was being particularly loud / verbally stimmy.  (Normally at home we are fine with this.  It’s nice to hear his voice sometimes.)  And he wasn’t the only kid being loud… but he was being pretty darn loud in the orchestra of a Broadway show.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see a volunteer starting to walk towards our row and I’m thinking  that they are going to ask us to try to keep Kyle a bit quieter.  The volunteer whispers something into my wife’s ear and then hands her something.  I’m like, “What’s that?  What did she say” and my wife hands me a small sensory ball and said “she asked if Kyle would like a sensory toy.”       NICE TOUCH!
Sunday 3:55-5:00pm
The play ends around 3:55pm.  Probably the strangest standing ovation these actors have ever gotten.  J  And I’m still on HIGH TRAFFIC alert.  The wife’s trying to convince me to stay in Manhattan and doing something else while we are here.  And I’m always like “quit while we are ahead” plus we got lucky on the way in but we could hit major traffic on the way home. 
So we get to our car, in our amazing parking spot.  It’s still there…with no parking tickets on it…  And I proceed to drive home my “secret” way and again I get home in no time. 
We get home by 5pm and realize that we are EXHAUSTED, but Kyle is up and has 4 hours to go til bedtime.   “What do we do now???”  Maybe we should’ve stayed in Manhattan!

That’s the end of my bizarre timeline.  Hope you enjoyed reading it. 
All in all, it was a very nice experience.  Everyone in the theater seemed to have a good time.  You heard a lot of stimming but you didn’t hear a lot of meltdowns.  And as parents it was GLORIOUS to be in a warm environment where anything goes.  Instead of a strange look when your kid is being loud, or kicking the seat… you got lots of warm smiles and knowing nods from parents who are just like you. 

This whole experience got me thinking what other parts of our lives could benefit from an “autism friendly” makeover?   They already have autism friendly movie screenings… How about autism friendly restaurant seating’s , or autism friendly flights, or autism friendly supermarket times… just a time of the day where ONLY asd kids and their parents are welcome, none of those TYPICAL families….   🙂  I’m only kidding…but a guy can dream can’t he?  Just kidding again… Or am I? 

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Written by

Frank Campagna

I’m a 48 year old neurotypical dad with a 14 year old son with severe, non-verbal autism & epilepsy. I created this blog to rant about autism & epilepsy while celebrating my son who I affectionately call “the king” :-).

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7 People Replies to “Autism Friendly Performance of The Lion King on Broadway — My Review? No, My Timeline”

  1. Cool! I'm on the spectrum and I attended the autism friendly performance of The Lion King on September 28 2014 (matinee), and I recorded audio too (but the whole show actually):
    Please let me know what you think!
    TDF's Autism Theatre Initiative will do another performance of The Lion King this September, and they'll also do shows like Aladdin. I'd love it if you'd go back and record more audio. Please reply when you get the time.

  2. Anonymous

    Your comment via Twitter: "@StateTC @MMFlint would you consider doing an Autism "friendly" screening, would b so nice to bring my son to a movie!"

    We appreciate your advocacy of this important issue. We regularly host Autism-friendly movie presentations at the State Theatre in Traverse City, Michigan. This is a non-profit, community-based, volunteer-staffed art-house movie theater in a small town (16,000) in northern Michigan. Filmmaker Michael Moore spearheaded the renovation and 2007 re-opening of this long-shuttered cinema house originally built in 1916.


  3. Hi I really like your blog and facebook page so I have awarded you with the Versatile Blogger award. Please see my page for instructions. Thanks!!

  4. Deborah, thanks for your email. How did you find my little old blog!

    Of course I knew you guys didn't know about the traffic situations. I was just writing my timeline and just showing how mom & dad were freaking out and blaming everyone…

    I will add in a note under that part…

    Thanks again for a great day!!

  5. Deborah Stein

    Hi, Autism Daddy. First, let me say how delighted I am to hear you had such a positive experience at the October 2nd autism-friendly performance of THE LION KING. However, as Coordinator of TDF's Autism Theatre Initiative, I would just like to clarify one thing. Absolutely NO ONE involved with the planning of this performance (TDF, Disney, the Nederlander Organization) had any idea whatsoever of the traffic issues that would be occurring on that day. The date for the performance was selected almost a year in advance, and on Friday night, September 30th (a holiday for some of us), when we learned of all the events happening in the city on October 2nd, it became a collaborative effort among the people who had worked tirelessly on the planning of this performance to get the word out asap to everyone who had purchased tickets, so that families could be better prepared. The support and generosity of the Broadway theatre community in helping to create a positive experience for everyone was one of the most impressive aspects of this endeavor, and I could not be more proud of all those involved.

  6. OMG!!!!!???? We don't have any "autism friendly" anything (okay I lied there is a 3 day family camp and one day of Surfers Healing which are both pretty awesome) But I WANNA GO TO A MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What am I supposed to do the other 361 days of the year?

  7. A charity local to us buys out a movie screening three or four times a year for ASD kids and their families, we can go along free of charge and it doesn't matter if your kid is bouncing off the walls. Its the only time I get to bring my kids to the movies together, never get to watch the actual movie but I can cope with that.