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5 Things to Help Include More Autistic People at Gigs

It’s World Autism Day on 2 April! To celebrate we asked Autism consultant and Heart N Soul creative associate Robyn Rocket to write a blog for us with a few pointers on how we can consider inclusion for Autistic musicians and listeners when the world opens again post-Covid.

Published: 01 April 2021 | 7:05 PM Updated: 08 April 2021 | 5:25 PM
Photograph of a young girl wearing ear protectors at a concert. The background is blurred but we can see multiple people and string lights.
"Like many of us, many autistic people and people with learning disabilities will be looking forward to the world opening up again." Photo credit: Shutterstock

Hi, my name is Robyn Rocket, I am Autistic and a musician, I run a series of gigs called Robyn’s Rocket at Café OTO in east London, I am also an Autism consultant. I am a Heart N Soul creative associate. World Autism Awareness day is Friday 2 April and I have been asked to write a piece to raise awareness/understanding/acceptance.

700,000 people are Autistic in the UK, many Autistic people also have a learning disability. There are 1.5 million people in the UK with a learning disability, but not everyone who has a learning disability is Autistic and vice versa. They are two different things.

Like many of us, many Autistic people and people with learning disabilities will be looking forward to the world opening up again. Autistic people and people with learning disabilities have as much right as anyone else to be able to go out and have fun at gigs and concerts, but may face barriers that other audience members may not.

In this short piece for World Autism Awareness day, I would like to draw your attention to five things about Autism and five things you can do to be more accommodating if you are a promoter, or things you can do as a gig goer.

1- Some Autistic people experience the sensory world differently

Some people take in too much sensory information from one or more senses and some people don’t take in enough, other people have a mix of sensitivity and under sensitivity. Sometimes this can make a person crave stimulation and stand with their head close to the speakers, sometimes it can make a gig inaccessible, sometimes it’s particular frequencies that are a problem.

But gigs are not just about hearing, there’s also lighting, as well as touch from other gig goers (not just in the mosh pit) but when your standing in a queue sometimes you sometimes physically touch people.

Tip: Put information on flyers and other materials if you are using lighting, dry ice etc (especially strobe lighting as this can cause epileptic seizures for some people), where possible advertise ear plugs behind the bar, if you can have a quiet room for people to chill out in, mark queues and lines clearly.

Tip for gig audience members: ear defenders can be helpful at gigs and are available from shops like screwfix and tool station, as well as specialist retailers such as sensory direct.

If you want ear plugs that are designed for musicians a music shop will stock them, I started with Vic firth. If you want something more conspicuous you can buy silicone mouldable ear plugs from pharmacies like boots, they can come in a variety of colours including see through.

*MU members may also find our hearing health scheme useful for customised musicians ear plugs.*

2 - Some Autistic people need structure

When you arrive at a gig not knowing when the music will start, which bands will play in which order, this can be stressful and anxiety provoking for many Autistic people. Obviously you want your audience to stay for all the bands and to not just show up after the support act.

Tip: you could have approximate set times on a poster in the venue, and if you’re putting bands on you could have a access rider which bands can fill in, for example flagging up if they need you to be precise with timings

Tip for gig goers: doors is a term used often used in gigs promotional information, it means the time the audience can start to enter the venue, not when the band will start. If you’re not bothered about seeing the support acts then you can arrive at this time, however if you do want to see the support acts they usually start 30 mins or more after the doors open. If it is a popular band playing it may take 30 minutes to wait in the queue outside the venue.

3 - Some Autistic people are really lonely

Until I discovered the experimental music scene in London and made friends, I would often go to gigs alone. I would be the first person in and then I would be billy no mates for 30 mins before the first support act came on. At my night Robyn’s Rocket we have volunteers or paid crew (once we got funding) whom part of their role was just to be friendly and approachable.

We also use rocket shaped badges to signify if people want to speak to new people, or only people they know, or no one (and you can change the position of your rocket badge throughout the night – also everyone in the venue gets a badge and puts it on so it’s not just something “ for some people”).

Tip: Have a few friends volunteer at gigs (maybe for some free drink tokens) to be friendly and chat to anyone who is lonely or looks a bit lost.

Tip for gig goers: you could look into getting a gig buddy, gig buddies is a charity who pair up non disabled and disabled people interested in the same music.

You could also join a local Autism social group, or a group that is dedicated to the kind of music you like, and ask if anyone would like to come to a gig with you. Be clear about the ticket arrangements – if you are buying tickets be sure to state if you are giving away the second ticket or if you want the person to pay you back (sometimes, especially for seated venues, it makes sense for one person to buy tickets for a group of people going together so they can make sure they are seated or stood in the same area of the venue).

4 - Not everyone finds it easy to speak verbally

Many Autistic people are non speaking, sometimes called being non verbal, or may only speak to a select group of people whom they feel safe with. This can be difficult for asking for a drink at the bar, also who hasn’t felt they were yelling at the bar staff when ordering.

Tip: having a laminated card with drink options on the counter top can mean people can point at what they want and everyone gets served a bit quicker. Incorporate pictures or symbols e.g using the noun project, and make sure the font is legible. Also ensure you have regular and clear signage for the toilets.

Tip for gig goers: have pictures on your phone of things you may want to ask for, or a notepad and pen, or ask someone to show you how to get to the toilet, bar etc.

If you feel comfortable you may wish to use the hidden disability lanyard which is a recognised symbol of hidden disabilities, if you are worried that it might cause other people to notice you when you do not want to be noticed, you can carry it in your pocket and only put it on if you feel you need to.

5 - When you’ve met one Autistic person you’ve met one Autistic person, everyone is different

Sometimes someone’s behaviour may seem strange to you, but try to understand each person on a individual level and don’t be frighted of us. We are just people.

Tip: Be open to learning how to be a more inclusive venue / promoter so more people can enjoy gigs .

Tip for gig goers: Each venue is different, try to have some strategies if you are anxious about uncertainty when going to a new venue. Having a few short articles, facebook or other social media on your phone to read can be a good distraction while sat alone at the bar. Ask friends who are more socially skilled than you for advice, this could be Autistic or non Autistic friends. Informal social situations are best learned by experience

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Photograph of a young girl wearing ear protectors at a concert. The background is blurred but we can see multiple people and string lights.

5 Things to Help Include More Autistic People at Gigs

It’s World Autism Day on 2 April! To celebrate we asked Autism consultant and Heart N Soul creative associate Robyn Rocket to write a blog for us with a few pointers on how we can consider inclusion for Autistic musicians and listeners when the world opens again post-Covid.

Read more about 5 Things to Help Include More Autistic People at Gigs