Discussion: Making films and theatre autism friendly?

A young person diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum constantly asks questions when watching films or theatre shows with a parent to make sense of the emotional and social storyline. 'What's happening?' 'Why does this character say this?' 'Would someone really feel this?'

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A young person diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum constantly asks questions when watching films or theatre shows with a parent to make sense of the emotional and social storyline. 

'What's happening?'

'Why does this character say this?' 

'Would someone really feel this?' 

The parent, a client of mine, says she is so busy answering this never-ending stream of questions that she cannot relax into the film or show. 

It led me to wonder if it might be helpful to have sub-titles (or in the theatre, audio description) that offers the emotional and social context that provides the missing information that an autistic person needs in order to make sense of what is happening. 

Cinemas already have 'autism friendly' screenings, where the sensory load (sound and light levels, crowds) is reduced and specially selected films are shown. 

There are accounts of how autistic children (and their parents) have been able to use films they relate to as stepping stones to developing a greater emotional articulacy. The Life, Animated website arose from the book about a boy called Owen and his favourite Disney animations. 

The Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out has been particularly noted as providing understanding of emotions for children with an autistic processing style. 

However, there doesn't seem to be any discussion yet about how to make a wider range of films autism friendly, by filling in the missing social and emotional information that most of us already automatically know. 

Do you have personal experience of these situations, either for yourself or with friends and family? If so, what's your view on whether this might be helpful? Or how might the idea be modified to make it hit the spot?

Are you an organisation working with people who have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum? Would this idea go some way to improving the quality of life for people who have this unique way of perceiving and processing the world? Are you able to commission a small pilot project to see how useful subtitles or audio descriptions could be?

I'd like to hear from you to get a dialogue going, to inspire some creative thinking (and, hopefully, a trial project). Please do take a moment to comment below. 

Jacky Francis Walker

I am an internationally recognised psychotherapist, mindfulness consultant, executive coach, clinical supervisor and trainer. Featured in Psychologies magazine's Coaching Directory, I have been in practice since 1993, working with high achieving professionals and people in creative fields. I offer appointments in London's Harley Street, the City of London and also via video link, so you can get help no matter where in the world you are. My clients are based in such places as the UK, America, Africa and even the Cayman Islands. Clients often self refer. I also receive referrals from other health professionals, such as doctors, cosmetic surgeons, occupational health professionals and dental surgeons. I am also registered with a number of Employee Assistance schemes and health insurance policies which may cover the cost of sessions - details are on my 'background' page on my website. The combination of skills I offer is unique in the UK. As author of The Burnout Bible, I am one of the UK's leading specialists in stress, burn-out and work/life balance. I work from an integrative approach, informed by humanistic and psychodynamic philosophy and mindfulness ways of working, but I draw from other approaches too, such as cognitive behaviour therapy, depending on your needs. I am able to vary my style fro fairly structured to fairly loose, according to your preference. By working collaboratively we can arrive at the most appropriate working style for you, so please do let me know if we need to change anything. I have been working with mindfulness-based approaches since the early 1990s. My MA thesis examined how mindfulness (in the form of the felt sense) could be found within most schools of psychotherapy and distilled key principles for working with mindfulness within a psychotherapeutic approach. In 2014 I took part in an innovative pilot scheme on Mindfulness and Weight Loss. My specialist areas I have a particular interest in working with : stress, burnout and work-life balance (with a special emphasis on the particular needs of high achieving professionals and people in the creative arts) quality of life issues (including mid-life crisis, life goals and spiritual values) the creative process mindfulness personal / professional development