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At another point, the guide tells the children not to be scared by the actors: “Some of the animals and singers may come close to me. The animals are not real; they are just actors wearing costumes and makeup, like on Halloween.”

The advocacy group Autism Speaks, noting how restaurants and movie houses are reaching out to autistic kids, helped the fund figure out how to make children with autism feel more comfortable at the theater.

“There’s definitely a nice movement in that direction to accommodate families with autism and be more compassionate,” said Dana Marnane, an executive at Autism Speaks.

Hart acknowledged that having a theater filled with children with widely different needs and abilities may be stressful, but at least it’s a start. And even if the experiment is deemed a failure, she said there likely will be lessons for the next attempt.

“There are going to be children who go to this and it’s still not going to be right for them. It’s not maybe the right fit, maybe not the right time, maybe they’re not ready for this. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying,” she said.

“The Lion King,” recommended for children 6 and up, runs a comfortable two and one half hours, including one intermission. All the changes to the musical were made with the approval and blessing of Disney and everyone from the ushers to the actors are on board.

“The Lion King is honored to be the first Broadway show in history to perform a specially tailored performance for the autism community,” said Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Productions.

Carling said the fund recently received an inspirational email from a mother in upstate New York who said she was tired of trying to take her autistic child to a musical and have people stare at her and her child.

“There are so few opportunities so hopefully this is the beginning of many more,” Carling said.

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Online:

Theatre Development Fund: http://www.tdf.org

The Autism Life: http://www.theautismlife.com