At Circus Starr we understand that many of the children in our audience, especially those on the autistic spectrum, struggle to cope with unfamiliar situations, and so we developed the Show and Tell app in order to make our shows more accessible to them. The app is now available on iOS and Android.
Cath Logan, Circus Starr’s Community Engagement Manager in 2015 explains: “We wanted to produce an app that could somehow capture and convey the essence, magic and unpredictability of the circus for a very literal audience. We needed to prepare a child who didn’t like surprises for a show full of surprises… without ruining the surprise!” In our experience, we had come to realise that children with autism would sit through an entire show mesmerised, due to the relaxed nature of the performances. This led us to explore the possibility of using digital technologies to make our shows even more accessible. We collaborated with Dr Tracey Piper-Wright (University of Chester), Therapy Box and The National Autistic Society to produce Show and Tell which can be tailored to suit the specific needs of a child in preparation for a trip to the circus. Photographs, video footage from the show, audio and text, help familiarise children with unknown experiences that may otherwise cause anxiety. Circus Starr’s Show and Tell App:
- Is an interactive, customisable, visual story featuring a range of circus images and show footage
- Helps children familiarise themselves with the circus experience
- Alleviates some of the anxieties associated with unknown experiences
- Enhances children’s enjoyment of live performance
- Increases confidence and helps develop social skills
- Can be used as a springboard into exploring further cultural opportunities (theatre, galleries, museums) with siblings, family and friends
With our Show and Tell App, children can prepare for their visit to our shows, they can personalise the app using some of their own pictures, videos and captions, and they can create a lasting record of their visit. We’ve created an app that can be used for, and with, those on the autistic spectrum to prepare, participate in and remember their time at a Circus Starr performance. Heather Wildsmith, Cultural Development Manager at the National Autistic Society says: “Social Stories and visual supports can be really valuable tools for many people with autism, helping them navigate situations like days out that many of us might take for granted”
Show and Tell App Development
Circus Starr’s Show and Tell App was developed in collaboration with Dr Tracey Piper-Wright (University of Chester), Therapy Box and the National Autistic Society. It can be tailored to suit the specific needs of a child in preparation for a trip to the circus – photographs, video footage from the show, audio and text help familiarise children with unknown experiences that may otherwise cause anxiety. Show and Tell was made possible through a £124,735 grant from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts; a £7 million fund to support collaboration between organisations with arts projects, technology providers, and researchers. It is a partnership between Arts Council England (www.artscouncil.org.uk), Arts and Humanities Research Council (www.ahrc.ac.uk) and Nesta (www.nesta.org.uk). The App was also inspired by the concept of Social Stories – where visual stories are used to create positive visualisations that reduce stress and enable the development of coping strategies. Our Show and Tell App won the Best New Technological Innovation Award at the National Autistic Society’s Autism Professionals Awards presented by NAS President Jane Asher and Chief Executive Mark Lever in 2015. The independent judging panel consists of 11 leading experts in the field of autism from a variety of professional backgrounds across the UK. We continue to research further funding to develop our Show and Tell for Android users and recognise that it could also be developed for many other applications – e.g. trips to the theatre, galleries or museums, or to prepare for the transition between schools, or for their school play, for children who struggle in such situations. Here’s an article on the development of Show and Tell from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2014/sep/26/show-and-tell-circus-app-autism
The app is now available on iOS and Android.
“I am delighted to endorse Circus Starr’s Show and Tell app which I think could potentially be a major breakthrough for families.
I have been working with and diagnosing children with Autism for over thirty years and the simple pleasure of a night out as a whole family is often denied them.
This can lead further to feeling alienated from ordinary society and their children being stigmatised. This app will be a major breakthrough in supporting families prior to, during and after the event.
Not only will they enjoy the circus but they will then be encouraged to explore other new situations and experiences.”
Dr Linda Buchan, Axia ASD
“It’s not that autistic kids won’t accept anything novel, it’s that they have to acclimatise to it first, so the trick is to introduce something new by stealth rather than face on.
Circus Starr’s ‘Show and Tell’ app gives children virtual ring-side seats (as well as helpful behind-the-scenes insights) at a circus show… so they have a good idea of what to expect before they go.”
Debby Elley, Co-Editor, AuKids Magazine.
“Mahdlo is thrilled to have been invited to take part in Circus Starr’s exciting research project that will support children with autism in accessing the arts and live performance.
We like to offer our members new opportunities to broaden their horizons and enjoy new cultural experiences and the vibrant, magical and accessibility of a Big Top show gives us the perfect opportunity to do this.
With the support of the new circus app ‘Show and Tell’ we hope that even more children will be able to enjoy the show!”
Chris O’Donnell, Ability Coordinator, Mahdlo Youth Zone, Oldham
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