A MUSIC show made specifically for young people with severe autism tours Scotland next month. Sound Symphony is an interactive show where audience members can feel the vibrations made by three live musicians.

The aim of the show, created by freelance theatre-maker Ellie Griffiths, is to enable the youngsters to become co-composers in the show which features “weird and wonderful” sounds from musical instruments and items including Velcro and light switches.

Griffiths created the piece in response to a lack of shows designed for the needs of young people with profound autism, a condition associated with high levels of social isolation.

She recently returned to Scotland after working for eight years with Oily Cart, a London-based company which specialises in making sensory performances for children with profound and complex disabilities.

Griffiths says “relaxed” performances, the current model of provision for people with autism, are often not suited to those with more severe manifestations of the condition. “A relaxed performance is usually when they turn the lights up and the sound down,” Griffiths says. “They are great for some people but not everyone. A lot of the young people I work with who have profound or severe autism, and what they love is really intense sound experiences where they can feel the vibrations of the sound in space. They also love getting involved.”

With funding from Creative Scotland and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, an organisation which supports arts projects for young people experiencing disadvantages, Sound Symphony puts the needs of those with profound autism at its heart. The funding will also support Griffiths and her team

in developing training and supporting venues in becoming better equipped to welcome severely autistic young people and their families.

The National:

When Griffiths, above, moved back to Scotland in 2016, she struggled to find the sort of sensory-based shows Oily Cart were making.

“With Oily Cart, I saw how powerful the work was, giving the young people access to really good-quality theatre,” she says. “I saw the impact on the families of the young people too, people who couldn’t really find activities that were geared towards their children, things where they had been thought of first, not last. I wanted to create a show where right from the beginning it’s focused on these young people.”

The group are often considered the hardest to reach, Griffiths explains. “These are some of the most invisible people in our society,” she says. “Even going to the supermarket can be a big deal for them. They are less verbal and may have high levels of anxiety. Some of their behaviours may not be seen as socially acceptable, as they don’t necessarily have an understanding of what they should and shouldn’t do in a certain space.”

As there are no clear-cut definitions of profound or complex autism, hard statistics on the numbers of people living in Scotland with the conditions are not available.

Griffiths says we are often not aware of people with such needs due to their social invisibility.

Sound Symphony turns that situation around. Each performance has an audience capacity of eight young people and the adults who are with them. The first part sees musician-composers Sonia Allori, Greg Sinclair and Shiori Usui play a concert of classical music. Then, bit by bit, each musician begins to deviate from the score, bringing in more improvisation and strange sounds.

Secrets hitherto hidden among the trio’s costumes also feature, and there’s space for audience members to get involved.

“From my experience, people with profound autism might sit and watch for a bit but then they want to be involved – they tend to hijack things,” Griffiths laughs. “As the symphony unravels, it’s almost taken over by the audience in the end.”

She adds: “This is a different model. In the room, the people with profound autism are the dominant culture. They are not the minority. We fit around them, not the other way around.”

Tickets for the shows, which are for young people aged eight and above and their carers, should be booked via contacting the venues directly.

May 3 to May 7, The Studio, Edinburgh, May 3: 10.30am and 3pm, May 4 and May 6: 11am and 2pm, May 7: 10.30am and 1.30pm £8, carers free. Tel: 0131 529 6000. Bookings can also be made by emailing bxo@capitaltheatres.com. 
May 11, The Joan Knight Studio, Perth Theatre, 11am and 2pm, £7.50. Tel: 01738 621031 or email info@horsecross.co.uk. 
May 13, Platform, Glasgow, 10.30am and 1.30pm, £5, teachers and carers free. Tel: 0141 276 9696 (option 1) or email info@platform-online.co.uk. 
May 15, Johnstone Town Hall, 10.30am and 1.30pm, £4, teachers and carers free. Tel: 0300 300 1210 or email boxoffice@renfrewshire.gov.uk. 
May 17, The Barn, Banchory, 10.30am and 1.30pm, £8 adults, £6 children, one free carer place per child. Tel: 01330 825431 or email mail@thebarnarts.co.uk. 
May 20, Byre Theatre, St Andrews, 10.30am and 1.30pm, £10, parents and carers free. Tel: 01334 475 000 or email byreboxoffice@st-andrews.ac.uk. 
May 22, Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy, 10.30am and 1.30pm, £6, teachers and carers free. Tel: 01592 583302 or email boxoffice.adamsmith@onfife.com. 
May 24, Lyth Arts Centre, Wick, 1.30pm and 6pm, £6, parents and carers free. Tel: 01955 641434 or email info@lytharts.org.uk www.independentartsprojects.com