Yesterday we sat in a theatre filled with other families, other kids, other adults waiting for a show to start. The lights were low and there was a gentle hum of conversation, only broken every now and then by an excited squeal.
Volunteers buzzed up and down the aisles, ready to pounce at the slightly look of inconvenience, while families sat on the edge of their seats, not wanting to disturb those around them, so used to being shushed.
When the cast of the Lion King took to the stage in this special performance, put on especially for those with ASD or sensory needs, they explained that this was their favourite show, second only to opening night.
The actor playing Scar, the crazy jealous uncle lion, said he hoped that we’d all sit back and enjoy the show, taking it in and expressing that joy however it felt best. A safe space for everyone to just be themselves.
It was about then that my eyes started leaking. By the time the powerful music from that iconic opening song started, and the people around me started relaxing into their space, realising that nobody was going to tell them off, there were ugly tears.
As the show went on, kids started dancing in the aisle, lions roared from the audience and there was clapping and flapping coming from every corner of the room. Instead of taking away from the experience, it only added to it; joy exploding in little pockets.
We got about a third of the way through and Poss needed a break. A toilet stop, sure, doubling as a sensory time out. A volunteer grabbed us as soon we reached the end of the aisle, pointing us to the family toilets, apologising for the noisy hand dryer, explaining there were paper towels if that was easier.
We passed a group of kids on the floor, watching a giant screen on big bean bags, that had been arranged there for the exact purpose. Families free to come and go, understanding smiles and shy words of comfort as we pass each other in the rows of seats.
Poss pushed past one lady in her hurry to get to see the orchestra pit, and on autopilot, I over apologised in her absence. She was already five steps ahead, the moment had passed and she was focussed on seeing the flute players. But that lady, she had been pushed and so I apologised.
She looked at me, slowly placing her hand gently on my arm, and said “you don’t need to apologise for her here. We’re at home now”. I had to stop myself from hugging her right then and there, as Poss leaned dangerously into the pit out of the corner of my eye.
At the end of the show we waited until pretty much everyone had left, not wanting to venture into the crush of families trying to exit. As we walked down the almost deserted marble stairs, Poss bubbled and bounced with excitement; telling us her favourite bits, singing the songs and dancing, her joy contagious.
We’ve been to big Autism events before. We’ve done the marches, we’ve been to the rallies. Those things are important, they have their place. But this. This was different. It was for her, it was for us, it was really, for everyone.