Community Cultural Arts Participation through Sensory Friendly Theatre: Parent and Organization Experiences and Perspectives
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Background: Children with sensory processing and developmental disabilities and their families experience barriers in the built, sensory, and social environments that limit their community cultural arts participation. Occupational therapists have begun using innovative service delivery approaches to dismantle these barriers and provide this population with community participation access. Using organization-level consultation, occupational therapists partner with community cultural arts organizations to develop sensory friendly programs that utilize environmental modifications, preparatory materials, and trained staff to support cultural arts participation for this population of children and families. Objective: The primary aim of this research was to investigate family and organization experiences and impacts of a sensory friendly theatre program developed with organization-level occupational therapy consultation. A secondary aim was to investigate organization perspectives on the sensory friendly program development process and partnership with the occupational therapy consultant. Methods: Qualitative case study methodology was used to investigate parent and organization experiences and perspectives. Primary data were collected through in-person semi-structured interviews with nine parents and four theatre staff. Parent and staff interview data were coded and analyzed separately using an inductive approach to identify themes unique to each stakeholder group. Results: Sensory friendly theatre as a “Deeply Meaningful Family Participation Experience” was the primary theme emerging from the parent data. Two secondary themes, the “Power of the Social Environment” and “Unique Children Need Unique Supports” informed understanding of the factors behind families’ positive experiences. A final secondary theme, “Inclusive but Safe Participation Experiences” described parents’ visions for future community opportunities. Conceptualization of the sensory friendly program as “Ignited by Organizational Mission and Personal Commitment” was the prominent theme emerging from the organizational data. Additional themes, “Pathfinding with Expert Consultation and Internal Resources” and “Challenges Worth Tackling,” described staff’s perceptions of key program facilitators and challenges. A final theme, “Powerful Personal and Organization Impacts,” described perceived positive outcomes of sensory friendly program development. Limitations: The scope of this research was limited by the inclusion of only two stakeholder groups and lack of direct data from children with disabilities, actors, and crew members. The primary investigator’s involvement in program development increased potential for bias. Thus, methodological elements including member checks, multiple modes of data collection, peer review, and collaboration between multiple researchers were incorporated to promote trustworthiness of results. Conclusions: Research findings support the potential of sensory friendly programming to promote successful cultural arts participation among families with children with sensory processing and developmental disabilities. Findings also support organization-level consultation as a promising service delivery model to enhance community organizations’ capacities to serve diverse populations. More research is needed to broaden understanding of sensory friendly theatre’s impacts on stakeholders including children with disabilities, actors, and crew members. Further exploration of the consultative occupational therapy process within cultural arts and other community organizations is also needed to support development of best practices for this innovative service approach.