What is a sensory-friendly Family Concert?

By Erin Horan
TFO Community Engagement Director

As part of this season’s TFO on the Go, TFO Principal Horn David Smith gives kids a close-up look at his French horn at a recent Police Athletic League event.

As part of this season’s TFO on the Go, TFO Principal Horn David Smith gives kids a close-up look at his French horn at a recent Police Athletic League event.

This Saturday, The Florida Orchestra horn section will do two performances of The Science of Sound for the fall Family Concert series – including a sensory-friendly version at 11:15 am. What does sensory-friendly mean?  Who can go?  Will the program be different? We get these questions all the time.

First, let’s start with “Why?” TFO began these performances several years ago because the autistic community is often underserved in the arts. Some families may be hesitant to bring their child with autism to any event where they are expected to stay in their seat and quietly listen.  TFO’s Community Engagement Department saw the Family Concert series as the perfect opportunity to make a few tweaks so that any child can experience a concert and feel welcome.

We couldn’t do it on our own. To build an effective program, TFO partnered with the fantastic Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at USF.  Over the years, CARD has provided essential training to staff, musicians, and volunteers so they know what to expect. CARD has also been instrumental (pardon the pun) in promoting the sensory-friendly family concerts through their network to reach children who would benefit from the experience.

The Science of Sound horn quartet performance and program essentially will be the same as a typical Family Concert. But there will be some key differences:

    • Because new experiences can be especially stressful for kids on the autism spectrum, CARD develops a social story so kids know what to expect before they arrive. This social story can be found on TFO’s website.
    • Kids and their families can walk into the venue without waiting in line for a ticket.
    • Kids are free to come and go and walk around during the concert, which lasts about 40 minutes with no intermission. There are no assigned seats, and no one is required to sit.
    • Audience noise during the concert is not a problem. Musicians will not be surprised.
    • Musicians also try to lessen concert sounds that could be jarring.
    • Patrons are welcome to bring manipulatives, cushions, and extra support objects to the concert.
    • Each venue will have a quiet space where children may take a break from sensory stimuli.
    • In some cases, lighting will be adjusted, though the Mahaffey Atrium is natural light.
    • The North Suncoast Associates’ popular Instrument Petting Zoo, in which kids can try out instruments, is available before the concert, but some especially loud instruments like cymbals will be removed.

Is the sensory-friendly performance only for kids on the autism spectrum? Not at all. Our aim is to create a safe and accepting environment where autistic children and their families can experience a high-quality artistic performance, but it’s a great experience for all kids.

We hope you will join us at one of the Family Concerts this Saturday morning!

If you go

The Science of Sound
Sat, Oct 14, 10 am & 11:15 am, Mahaffey Atrium
The 11:15 am performance will be sensory friendly.

The performance repeats in November & December:
Sun, Nov 12, 2 pm & 3:15 pm, Dunedin Fine Art Center
Sat, Dec 2, 10 am & 11:15 am, HCC-Ybor Performing Arts Center

Admission is pay what you can at the door or call the ticket center for advance reservations.

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