Lansing's Wharton Center offering sensory friendly plays for people with autism

LANSING (WJRT) (12/5/2017) - Many people go to the theater for the sights, sounds and the excitement of of a live performance.

Dominic Blatnik goes over a photo book of a sensory friendly play at the Wharton Center in Lansing with his mother, Cathy Blatnik.

But those are the exact reasons why families dealing with autism avoid the theater.

The Wharton Center in Lansing is hoping to change that with a series of sensory friendly plays. Dominic Blatnik is one person making a rare visit to the theater for one of the performances.

"I think a lot of people with autism just prefer their own company, but that isn't real life," his mother, Cathy Blatnik, said. "The best way to get Dominic used to people is being around people."

But sometimes, even in everyday situations, Cathy Blatnik said it's just too much for her son.

"Life is stressful, so we can't keep all the stress away from him," she said. "But I try my best to just have a calm household."

But for years, there have been many things Dominik hasn't been able to do, like each year at Christmas attending a play at the Wharton Center with his family.

"I've been coming with my daughter eight or nine years to see the Nutcraker here and we would get all dressed up. That was our thing to do," Cathy Blatnik said. "Dominic would be with my husband and he would just look at us and look kind of sad."

But this year, it's Dominic's turn at the Wharton Center. With his suit and bow tie ready to go, he is attending the first-ever sensory friendly program offered at the Wharton Center.

"Our sensory friendly program that we're just launching this season with a series of three performances that are geared towards people with (autism spectrum disorder) or sensory sensitivities," said Diane Willcox, director of marketing at the Wharton Center.

The venue wants to help people with autism feel supported.

"They feel as if they can relax. They feel as if their behaviors are in no way stigmatized," Willcox said.

Cathy Blatnik says many of the accommodations being made are exactly what Dominic needs for a good experience.

"They did a social story with pictures and that is awesome, so he knows what's coming next," she said. "He can turn the page himself and see what he's doing next and that's how were going up the steps."

If the theater is just too large for people with autism to feel comfortable, the Wharton Center also is setting up an activity space with puzzles and crafts. Volunteers will be available to work with those who feel the experience is still just too much.

"It's not going to be too loud, the lights aren't going to be too bright. But it doesn't just benefit Dominic. It's going to benefit so many people," Cathy Blatnik said. "Adults, children, anybody who has any kind of sensory issue."



 
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