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15 minutes to showtime…damp grass mulch mixes with wafting diesel fumes in the field car park. Spotlights pierce the spring mist.
10 minutes to showtime…the peculiar irregularity of popcorn pieces. Their crackly, crunchy sweetness. A smell of horses. The thrilling music. Loud, loud music.
5 minutes to showtime…crowding, touch and laughter as the excited audience take their seats. Someone is crying.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…sit back, relax, and welcome to our show…”
Rosa, a dignified, brave and resilient little girl, has been working to make the circus more accessible in collaboration with Circus Starr, facing up to many personal challenges along the way.
Rosa’s job, as a consultant on the Sensory-being Project, was to co-produce and trial a sensory social story about what it feels like to go to the circus. She did it so that she could show other people what going to the circus tastes like, what it sounds like, what it smells like. All the things that might cause stress if you sense the world without the filter of cognition.
Rosa understands speech and can communicate yes/no using eye pointing. Her family asked her if she would be happy to help. She said yes.
The resulting sensory pack contains, for example, a piece of pink cellophane. Circus lighting makes people appear pink. Cognitively able people can interpret this. But for someone who experiences the world through their senses alone, abruptly turning pink is potentially frightening. The tinted cellophane helps anticipate and overcome this fear.
Jo Grace, who runs Sensory-being projects, said: “We are good at thinking about physical access like toilets and ramps but we need to think more about sensory access. Rosa has been making people think!”
In order to co-produce the pack, Rosa had to experience and explore the sensations of the circus ahead of her visit. The live environment remained loud and strange for her; the pack had mitigated many issues but others remained. For example, because of the angle at which she holds her head, Rosa spent much time staring at the spotlights in the Big Top’s canopy. She was very brave and coped but clearly found it difficult, meeting the challenge with the support of family and friends.
Circus Starr report that many families are now requesting the sensory pack and that Rosa’s work will help lots more people to enjoy the circus. Rosa has played a central role in removing some of the stress of new sensory experiences both for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and those autistic people who may struggle with the sensory challenges of the circus.
Mum Amy adds, “One of Rosa’s favourite things is being with other kids, doing things together and sharing experiences. This is why I think it’s so lovely that she had this opportunity to work with Jo and to share this experience with other children as I know that makes her very happy.
“We still talk about Circus Starr and sing the song now and it always brings smiles. Although it is hard for Rosa to understand exactly how she has shared her story with other people she is very proud of the work she has done.”
Young Person’s Award Winner
We’re proud to award Rosa with the Young Person’s Award for the 2019 Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List!
How does it feel to be a Learning Disability and Autism Leader?
“Rosa smiled when I asked her.”
“Rosa’s story will give people the opportunity to gain an insight in to the world of sensory being, and inform, raise awareness and educate.” – Leaders’ List 2019 Judge
“A lot for a little girl to achieve what she has done.” – Leaders’ List 2019 Judge
“Rosa’s story is a great example of her willingness to try out new things and have adventures, both as a challenge to herself and to inspire others.” – Leaders’ List 2019 Judge