Special show for special needs kids

Performers putting on a pre-concert show outside the Victoria Theatre yesterday to help ease the children with special needs into the sights and sounds of the main show.
Performers putting on a pre-concert show outside the Victoria Theatre yesterday to help ease the children with special needs into the sights and sounds of the main show.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Handbell concert modified to be sensory-friendly, with fewer jarring sounds

Well-lit aisles, fewer jarring sounds and a selection of side activities can make all the difference in helping children with special needs enjoy a concert.
 

Yesterday, youngsters with special needs and their parents - 400 in total - attended a handbell concert, which made modifications to its matinee show to make it "sensory-friendly".

It meant that they would not be shocked by loud and sudden noises.

If any of them felt uncomfortable and needed to leave, the lights were on so they could easily make their way out to a quiet, calming room or a movement space where anxiety could be worked out on a bouncing castle.

People on the autism spectrum have difficulty processing everyday sensory information, such as sounds, sights and smells, and can be hypersensitive to such stimuli.

BEING INCLUSIVE

I thought, if our group is supposed to be inclusive, then people with special needs need to be included.

MR DAMIEN LIM, show director.

Even before the 3pm show, the children visited an activity corner where they coloured pictures and watched mini performances to ease them into the sights and sounds they would experience at the show.

Show director Damien Lim, who founded handbell community Ministry of Bellz in 2007, said: "I thought, if our group is supposed to be inclusive, then people with special needs need to be included as well."

With the help of consultants from the National Arts Council, Mr Lim modified his show to make it suitable for those with special needs.

For example, performers left out Phantom Of The Opera from their afternoon show, as it was deemed too jarring. The matinee performance was also 30 minutes shorter than the 7pm gala.

The one-hour show featured 170 performers singing and dancing to handbell renditions of songs from musical theatre favourites such as The Lion King and Aladdin.

Last July, Mr Lim took a course on arts for those with special needs, then went on to teach handbells at Grace Orchard School, which caters to children with mild intellectual disability and mild autism.

Yesterday, he included his students from Grace Orchard School in the afternoon performance and had them play Amazing Grace on various instruments alongside students from Methodist Girls' School.

The 600 tickets to yesterday's matinee, held at Victoria Theatre, were sold out, with about 400 going to children with special needs and their families. For many of them, it was the first public performance they had attended.

Property valuer Madam Ngeoh Wai Wee, 41, said she had not even watched a movie together with her autistic daughter Cheryl, 12.

"She's very sensitive to sound and cannot take loud noises," said Madam Ngeoh.

Cheryl, who attends Rainbow Centre - Margaret Drive School, wore headphones yesterday to block out some of the background noise.

"If we take her to a normal performance, I'm not sure what she would do and she might disturb others," said Madam Ngeoh.

"I'm happy I get a chance to bring her to a concert."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 31, 2016, with the headline 'Special show for special needs kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe