The Whipping Scene (Including Autistic Children)

Kelvin Moon Loh is acting in “The King and I” on Broadway.

He recently shared an experience where an autistic child became upset during “the whipping scene,” and the condemnation from the audience that followed.

In a public facebook post he writes:

” I ask you- when did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experience that we lose compassion for others?…”His voice pierced the theater. The audience started to rally against the mother and her child to be removed. I heard murmurs of “why would you bring a child like that to the theater?”. This is wrong. Plainly wrong.”

“Shows that have special performances for autistic audiences should be commended for their efforts to make theater inclusive for all audiences. I believe like Joseph Papp that theater is created for all people. I stand by that and also for once, I am in a show that is completely FAMILY FRIENDLY.

Click to read the entire post.

Inclusion in Public Spaces

I am so glad that Moon Loh took the time to share this experience and explain his disappointment.

Special shows designed for autistic audiences ARE wonderful, sometimes they are the only avenue for those with sensory sensitivities to enjoy the arts.
They are not “inclusive.”
Inclusive means mixing.
It means an autistic adult being able to attend any show.
It means an autistic child being accepted at  a show intended for families with children.
It means those with disability invited and welcomed into the public space because it is
OUR SPACE TOO.

The experience is Necessary

A typical problem is that parents do not feel as comfortable taking autistic kids into public spaces and so children lack experience in knowing how to behave/what is expected/what is going to happen which increases anxiety, something that is a constant already.
Without the practice, how can one learn the skill?
Parents also often do not feel comfortable because of reactions like the audience members even at so called “family friendly” events where extra noise and moving around are expected.
Already under stress, they can become isolated which can lead to depression, guilt, and anxiety.

What Parents can do

I cannot say whether a Broadway show with intense scenes was appropriate for this child in particular, or not, but  sometimes parents do not consider the child’s needs or sensitivities and pick events badly, or stay overlong.

Parents and other caregivers must ask themselves:
  • How much time, intensity and excitement can my child handle in an activity without  melting down?
  • Is this something my child will actually enjoy?
  • Are there any sensory sensitivity concerns and what can we do to prevent or lessen them?
  • What calming activities/strategies do we  have to decrease stress?
  • What is our exit strategy should we need to leave early?
  Even with careful planning, shit happens, things upset, and limits are reached.

What the public can do

Get used to it, and show some compassion.

The general non disabled/neurotypical public  still marginalizes disability.

They shamed that mother and child.
I hope she isn’t too hard on herself, or her child.
I hope this mom keeps going, keeps trying to take her son places, and keeps his limits and needs in mind.
I hope with efforts to increase autism acceptance, shit like this happens less.
I’ll leave you with a last quote from Joh:
“The King and I on Broadway is just that- FAMILY FRIENDLY- and that means entire families- with disabilities or not. Not only for special performances but for all performances. A night at the theater is special on any night you get to go.”
 
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