The MAC, Belfast, reduces the fear of the unfamiliar for children with autism spectrum disorder

The MAC, Belfast, reduces the fear of the unfamiliar for children with autism spectrum disorder

By Melissa McMinn, The MAC, Belfast


Melissa McMinn shares how developing MACtile tours has helped the MAC welcome children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The MAC developed MACtile tours to help groups — particularly children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) — to see, touch and experience the venue prior to a visit.

The idea was sparked by years of working with school groups and by one incident in particular. A child with ASD, who was visiting the venue for the first time, became completely overwhelmed on a school visit. The space was busy and unfamiliar and that child never got beyond the foyer; they didn’t experience the show.

We want every child that visits The MAC to feel comfortable here so we knew we had to do something. We had to find a way to make the venue feel familiar so groups felt safe and knew what to expect.

The solution

Our learning and participation team came up with the idea of MACtile tours. We had a replica of the largest theatre built, complete with model seats, lights, stage and actors. It fits neatly into a box, allowing us to transport it to schools and community groups.

Alongside the model, we developed tactile moodboards featuring samples of costume fabrics and other materials. We also created a visual presentation in powerpoint showing photos of the venue and staff as well as production shots and snippets of music from the show.

The tours combine all of these elements and allow groups to see, touch and experience the venue before their visit.

Tours are provided free of charge to schools and community groups who feel their pupils would benefit from the pre-visit activity.

What does a MACtile tour involve?

A trained member of staff goes out to the school or community group, equipped with the tactile moodboards and ‘theatre in a box’.

They talk children through how they will arrive in the venue, who they will meet, what they might see, and how they will access the theatre via a narrow corridor.

They play samples of music from the show and share photos of the production wherever possible. Sometimes they will show lighting gels and talk about how red might signify danger or blue might signal a cold atmosphere.

Gradually, they bring the venue and show to life and invite children to touch the props and explore the replica model.

The tours are designed to remove any fears of visiting an unfamiliar place so children can relax and enjoy their visit.

Download the free case study for tips and recommendations:
MACtile tours case study (PDF)

Resource type: Case studies | Published: 2017