On June 3rd, The Musical Autist had a sensory friendly concert at Anne Arundel Community College. We had not had a concert in two years, because we were focusing on starting our new programs, Musical Autist Troupe and the Empowerment Jam Sessions. However, the concert was great. There were around 50 people in attendance. We had a classical guitarist named Alex Barnett as our performer, and at the end of the concert, The Musical Autist Troupe played two songs. My favorite song Alex performed was “La Paloma,” which means the dove. I played “Speak Life” by TobyMac and “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman with the Musical Autist Troupe.
A Sensory Friendly Concert is a concert that is geared toward people on the autism spectrum. At a typical concert venue, autistic vocalizations and movement are typically not allowed. If you were at a classical concert, you could only clap when you’re supposed to and you are not allowed to make noises or usher will ask you to leave the concert. The sensory friendly concerts that we put on are very different. In our concerts, we provide accommodations such as noise reduction headphones, sensory quiet room, scarves, and foam blocks, while maintaining the integrity of a classical or jazz concert with high level musicians. The sensory quiet room is a place were autistic individuals in the audience are free to go to if they need a sensory break or if they are about to have a meltdown. Also, the only amplification is from the stage. We do not use a house PA system because the snap, crackle, and pop of the amplifiers may be overpowering for autistic people.
Sensory Friendly Concerts started in 2011. My partner CJ Shiloh was the one who dreamed of this idea because she knew that a lot of concert venues were not accessible for people on the autism spectrum. Music therapists all over the country are starting to replicate the concerts that we created. We accept donations in a basket at the front of the concert venue. We also ask the attendees to fill out a survey in the program. The survey helps us collect data so that we can improve our concerts. The unofficial slogan of our Sensory Friendly Concerts is, “hand flapping allowed.” Not only do we allow autistic vocalizations but we allow hand flapping, head wagging, and rocking if it is desired by each individual on the spectrum. The whole idea of having a sensory friendly concert is that we want our concert venues to be accessible to all autistic people. It is our hope and dream that one day, concerts will be more accessible and inclusive to everyone who attends them.