Sensory-Friendly Theatre: Making the big screen accessible to all

The experience of seeing a show, whether on the big screen or the big stage, can be particularly challenging for those who struggle with sensory processing. Thankfully, performers and venues across the nation are taking notice and offering sensory-friendly shows.

Broadway: a magical experience of dazzling lights, bright colors, and gut wrenching vocals. For many, it’s a dream come true to see a Broadway production, and on Sept. 23, 2015, an unnamed child and his mother excitedly attended the revival of The King and I. But for this family, the show was not magical. In fact, it was cruel.

In the quiet, intimate moments of the show, the child, who is autistic, made sounds that brought shushes from surrounding audience members.

Kelvin Moon Loh, a member of The King and I ensemble, was quick to notice and react on social media, drafting a powerful message that theatre is created for all people. He wrote:

For her to bring her child to the theater is brave. You don’t know what her life is like. Perhaps, they have great days where he can sit still and not make much noise because this is a rare occurrence. Perhaps she chooses to no longer live in fear, and refuses to compromise the experience of her child. Maybe she scouted the aisle seat for a very popular show in case such an episode would occur. She paid the same price to see the show as you did for her family. Her plan, as was yours, was to have an enjoyable afternoon at the theatre and slowly her worst fears came true.

For those with Autism, being out and about in the community can pose significant sensory overload. The experience of seeing a show, whether on the big screen or the big stage, can be particularly challenging.

“For children with Autism, the experience can be overwhelming due to the intense sensory input. Combine loud sounds with a dark room where you cannot visually navigate your space and the experience may rise to the level of terrifying,” says Tara Delaney, MS, OTR/L.

The CDC estimates that about 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, and the rate continues to increase every year. But as more children and families in the United States are facing a diagnosis of Autism, something magical is happening; our communities are recognizing the increasing population of those with sensory disorders, and the conversation about the importance of sensory-friendly environments is growing from a gentle hum to a catchy power ballad belted out by the masses.

Take, for example, Micon Cinemas, a movie theatre in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. They’ve partnered with local radio station WAXX 104.5 to offer sensory-friendly movies for families.

During the show, the lights are turned up and the volume is turned down. Children are free to stand, sit, or roam about the theatre; whatever makes them feel comfortable.

“A kid went up to the screen and touched the screen because they were curious,” says WAXX 104.5 DJ and event organizer Cora Quinn. “We’ve also had children sit on the floor, because that’s what is comfortable for them.”

In addition to offering matinee prices and discount concessions to families that attend, sensory-processing disorder resources, such as local equine therapy group Trinity Equestrian Center, have also been invited to display information in the lobby to help connect families with valuable community resources.

Theatre owner Connie Olson said having a sensory-friendly showing was something Micon Cinemas had always wanted to do. “We’ve worked hard to make sure the experience of seeing a movie in the theater is available to everyone; this includes having audio-description and assistive listening devices available for our patrons. Having a sensory-friendly showing just made sense to us.”

Mim Ochsenbein, MSW, OTR/L, works with many clients struggling with Autism, and notes that our society is not set up for individuals with sensory sensitivities, especially children. “Children with autism are faced with many limitations in our culture. When you think of the typical childhood experiences – amusement parks, birthday parties, summer camp, and going to movies with family and friends – we don’t consider that these experiences are just not possible for our kids with ASD or SPD. The fact that this community recognized the needs of their ASD community and was able to create an event that is safe and normal for both the kids and caregivers is extraordinary. I hope that this is start of a wonderful movement to create sensory friendly events for children and their families where everyone can have fun and feel safe in the experience.”

Thankfully, sensory-friendly showings are becoming more prevalent. In 2011, the Theatre Development Fund launched the Autism Theatre Initiative making Broadway shows accessible to those on the autism spectrum, as well as their families.

And it’s not just Broadway taking notice. Blue Man Group recently announced that they will host a set of sensory-friendly shows in five major U.S. cities over the next year.

For those in small communities looking to make a difference, Micon Cinemas says it’s easy for theatres to offer a showing of a film that’s sensory friendly, and they hope that theaters across the nation will begin accommodating families that are struggling to find social activities that work for them. “The key is to find people like Cora Quinn and Alex Edwards from WAXX 104.5 who can help get the word out to the community,” said Connie.

If you’re ready for a community that includes every person, join PESI, Cross Country Education, Psychotherapy Networker, and the chorus of supportive voices for Light it Up Blue for Autism Awareness. Together, we can bring positive changes to our communities, both large and small.


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Do you live in the Eau Claire, Wisconsin area? Micon Cinemas and WAXX 104.5 will be announcing more sensory-friendly shows. Watch the Micon Cinemas Facebook page for details.

Instant Focus Booster: A mindful way to build resilience

Because coffee works best in moderation, you may need another way to shake, rattle, and roll those brain cells awake. Here is an all-natural way to boost your energy and mental focus through breathing.

This blog is based on the writing of Donald Altman, M.A., LPC. You can read more in Donald’s book, 101 Mindful Ways to Build Resilience.


There are going to be times during the day when you feel sluggish and lack energy or concentration. Because coffee works best in moderation, you may need another way to shake, rattle, and roll those brain cells awake. Here is an all-natural way to boost your energy and mental focus through breathing. By using this focus boosting practice, you will improve your concentration abilities and feel more awake in just one minute’s time.

— How —

  1. With your fingers clasped together, place your hands firmly under your chin. Coordinating with your breath, you will slowly “flap” your arms up and down like butterfly wings.
  2. Inhale deeply on the count of four as you raise your elbows (butterfly wings) upward. Let your chin and head tilt back and upwards as the wings reach their apex. If you feel lightheaded you may be taking too deep a breath. Remember, you don’t need to fill up your lungs all the way.
  3. Hold your breath for the count of four.
  4. Exhale slowly for a count of six as you gradually lower your butterfly wings all the way down. Make sure you let out all the air.
  5. Take an additional three or four more focus-boosting butterfly breaths to build up energy.

— When —

Use this focus boosting practice anytime during the day when you feel low in energy, sluggish, or are having a hard time focusing and concentrating on a task.


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Donald Altman is a psychotherapist, award-winning writer, former Buddhist monk, teacher and adjunct faculty at Portland State University. He is also a faculty member of the Interpersonal Neurobiology program at Portland State University and teaches various classes blending mindfulness and Interpersonal Neurobiology.


Working Through Trauma with Yoga: Healing heart meditation

The Healing Heart Meditation allows us to bring ourselves to the awareness that joy is our natural birthright and our inherent nature. As we connect to our deepest self, we find the strength to let go of pain.

The following is an excerpt from Mindfulness & Yoga Skills for Children and Adolescents by PESI author Barbara Neiman, OTR.


When I was 16, my 18-year-old brother was killed as he walked along a train track on a college campus in the Midwest. For many years after this, the sound of a train, seeing a train track, the name of the college or the state where it occurred would be a trigger for me. It would send me back to the memory of our Rabbi at our front door crying as he delivered the news of the tragedy to our family. Within seconds of any of the triggers, I could somatically re-experience the trauma of feeling the disorientation, dissociation and nausea I felt in those moments of first hearing the heartbreaking news.

The shutting-down of all feelings and body sensation began later that evening when I was asked by my disoriented mother to call my brother’s girlfriend, Elle, and tell her about my brother’s death. Dutifully, and unconsciously, I completely turned off all feelings and made the call. As grace was with me, Elle’s mother answered the phone. I relayed the sad news to her and she was able to buffer the news to her daughter. My own post-traumatic stress went unrecognized for years as therapy was not as accessible at that time. It wasn’t until I began meditating, chanting and doing body work and talk therapies that I could get near processing this trauma.

Yoga was the first healing process that I was able to see tangible results from. At that time, my experience of yoga was chanting and meditation with a few physical poses. Here is a meditation that I find to be healing for my clients struggling with trauma.

Healing Heart Meditation

  • Place your hand on your heart. Begin to layer through the body of skin, fascia, bones, and into the heart organ.
  • Allow yourself to be still with yourself for a moment and filled with the heart’s own vibration of love for yourself and others. Even if your mind is busy, put the thoughts on the imaginary shelf and focus on the breath.
  • Breathing, bring to your mind’s eye an image and thought of anything that evokes joy for you.
  • Allow that joy to fill your being. Focus on the immediate feeling of joy as your heart leaps when you bring your beloved image to mind. It can be of nature, a friend, music, art, family or any images that speak to you.
  • It is this actual moment of remembrance of the joy that we are focusing on (such as seeing an old friend, tasting favorite food, relishing a beautiful color). This yogic technique from the ancient yoga scriptures that teach us how to connect with the universal consciousness of joy.
  • Breathe with an inhale for 4 counts and hold the breath for 2 counts. Then allow a long exhale for 6 counts and hold again for 2 counts to empty the breath. Repeat this several times.

As we do this meditation we bring ourselves to the awareness that joy is our natural birthright and our inherent nature. As we connect to our deepest self, we find the strength to let go of pain.

Often as the body relaxes while doing the physical poses and the deep breathing in yoga, feelings may surface that are generally armored in the body-mind. It is important to give space and be open to whatever may occur in a yoga session and neither judge nor hold to any routine that would shut down any client’s emerging feelings. This is why we do Sponge pose (Savasana) the relaxation pose at the end of a yoga session. We rest deeply after all the activity, integrating the experience nonverbally and meditating while we lie quietly. Also at the end of the session, it can be helpful to do a hand mudra that can be calming and comforting to seal in the practice.


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Barbara Neiman is an Integrative Occupational Therapist, Yoga Teacher 200RYT in Embodyyoga®, a coach for professionals seeking a holistic practice and a National Seminar Presenter. She teaches courses on Yoga and Mindfulness around the country. She created her company, Health Discovery, in 1988, to provide services for infants through school age children. As a Certified Practitioner of Body Mind Centering since 1989, Barbara has taught experiential hands on, movement, and meditation classes to hundreds of students.

#AskGottman: Affairs Answers

It’s possible to recover from an affair, but not every relationship can or should be saved. In a recent #AskGottman session, Master Certified Gottman Therapists Don and Carrie Cole answered 5 tough questions about affairs. Here are their responses.

It’s possible to recover from an affair, but not every relationship can or should be saved. In a recent #AskGottman session, Master Certified Gottman Therapists Don and Carrie Cole answered 5 tough questions about affairs. Here are their responses.


We hope that our responses help you to process the trauma of betrayal and begin on the path towards rebuilding trust in your relationship.

Thank you for your questions this week about affairs. Many of you have been left in pain, and for that we are both very sorry. We hope that our responses below help you to process the trauma of betrayal and begin on the path towards rebuilding trust in your relationship. As always, remember that our answers are intended to be psycho-educational. If you would like to speak with a professional trained in the Gottman Method, we encourage you consult the Gottman Referral Network.

I love this quote: “Confronting infidelity is really coping with betrayal. It’s all about holding the other person accountable for that betrayal and honoring yourself in the process.” How do I do this?

Of all the difficult situations people face in relationships, betrayal may be the worst. The person we count on the most is the one who has hurt us. The feelings of sadness, anger, shock, and helplessness grip our hearts to the point of paralysis. People that have been betrayed often feel inadequate and wonder why their partner chose someone else over them. To confront infidelity and cope with betrayal, you need to honor yourself by communicating your feelings and ensuring that those feelings are heard and validated. You need to believe that your partner is truly remorseful for the betrayal. You also need to honor yourself – and hold your partner accountable – by communicating what you need for repair.

It’s difficult to communicate your feelings after a betrayal. Even after time has passed, talking about the incident can trigger old pain. At the same time, you may feel an internal pressure to process and get things off your chest.  If you hold these feelings in too long, they could come out in unexpected and volatile ways, or they could stay locked in and lead to depression. You need to be heard. You honor yourself when you share your pain, your sadness, your fears, and even your anger. With that said, sharing your feelings is not the same thing as attacking your partner. Avoid blaming “you” statements and focus on what’s going on inside of you. Dr. Gottman suggests that couples complain without blame (“I feel…”) and state a positive need (“I need…).

In order to truly recover after a betrayal, you must be able to hear, accept, and believe that your partner truly regrets the infidelity. Hopefully your partner will be patient with the fact that you might need to hear that regret expressed many times in many different ways. Often a person who has had an affair seeks to rush ahead to talk about the deficits that were present in the relationship before the affair occurred. This can cause a lot of problems, especially at first, because the betrayed partner might very well feel that the betrayer is seeking to justify his or her actions or even to defensively blame the betrayed partner.

You need to communicate what you need to repair the relationship. That can be hard because sometimes you don’t even know yourself what you need. For most couples in this situation, transparency is a must. That means that your partner needs to be an open book about where they are, who they are with, when to expect their return, and immediate communication if there is a change in plans, or if they have had any encounter with the affair partner. It goes without saying that the affair must end and that all communication with the affair partner ceases.

The biggest issue in establishing a transparent relationship is hearing the full story of the affair.  While it is best to avoid questions regarding specific sexual behaviors, all other questions must be answered openly and honestly. The betrayer who tries to “soften the blow” by hiding details of the affair runs the risk of creating a second betrayal when their partner discovers those details that had previously been omitted. If you need to have access to your partner’s email accounts and text messages, it is okay to ask for that. You might want to write out a list of what your needs are. It is okay to have needs and to ask your partner to honor them.

What is emotional infidelity?

Emotional infidelity takes many different forms. A lot of people argue about what constitutes an emotional affair. In the Gottman Method, we believe it starts when a person gets too close to someone other than his or her relationship partner. Often these relationships begin innocently enough, but they grow into something very dangerous. The signs of emotional infidelity are: confiding in; flirting; keeping the relationship secret from the partner; and sharing details about their personal life, especially negative details about the partner and the relationship. People who get involved in emotional affairs find themselves making negative comparisons between their partner and the “friend.” They see their “friend” as being funnier, more interesting, more attractive, easier to talk to, more interested in them, and more understanding. This begins The Cheater’s Cascade.

Social media can play a big role in the cascade toward emotional infidelity, especially in today’s day and age. Reconnecting with old high school and college friends or sweethearts can begin with a desire to “catch up.”  Unfortunately, all too often it moves way beyond that.  It can escalate very quickly.

Emotional affairs almost always involve secret keeping. When people try to hide the extent and the content of their conversations, they are on a slippery slope toward an emotional affair. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “How would I feel if I heard my partner having this kind of conversation with someone else?” If that would hurt, then a boundary is being crossed.

Almost all betrayals begin with emotional infidelity. Even if the betrayal never moves beyond the emotional betrayal to a physical relationship, the offense can be just as devastating and recovery can be just as difficult.

My husband used to be a porn addict. He kept an online dating profile, commented on photos of other women, posted for sex, and responded to a woman to meet. While he never actually slept with anyone, I still feel cheated on – betrayed at least. I have read many articles on forgiveness and recovery, but I still don’t know how. He has an extensive history cheating on past partners. How do I recover from this? Are we doomed? I feel my inability to fully trust him is a big part of our relationship.

It makes sense that you would feel betrayed and anxious about your future.  You are right, trust is a big part of every relationship and there are serious roadblocks to trust in this situation. In addition to dealing with the betrayals that have already happened, you must consider the possibility that your partner still suffers from a sexual addiction that must be successfully treated if the relationship is ever going to feel safe. A thorough evaluation by a counselor or therapist is a good first step. You are going to need a lot of support, both individually and as a couple.

The need for total transparency is a given here. There can be no secrets.  Social media accounts and other media – email accounts and cell phones – must be an open book. You are living in a very stressful situation and it would be helpful for you to learn effective stress management techniques like deep breathing, relaxation exercises, and perhaps some form of meditation.

It might be helpful to have a “State of the Union” meeting each week. Set aside an hour to talk about how things are going. What is the state of your union? This would be a good time to share what has been helpful toward rebuilding trust, and what you still need from your partner that you may not be getting. It is important to state what you do need rather than what you don’t need. Avoid attacking and blaming your partner.

Finally, give yourself a break about forgiving your partner. In a situation like this, forgiveness is connected to feelings of safety and understanding. How can you forgive what you don’t understand? Your understanding comes from his awareness of self. You cannot feel safe until you are convinced that his behavior has ended.

As a counselor, what’s the first step in helping couples rebuild and nurture trust once they’ve agreed to work past an affair?

As Dr. Gottman explains in The Science of Trust and What Makes Love Last?, the “Gottman Trust Revival Method” after an affair has 3 phases: atone, attune, and attach. This system for healing is founded in his lab results and clinical experience, which confirm the effectiveness of the model.

As a counselor, the first step is to help couples have an atonement conversation about the affair. The betrayed partner may have a lot of questions that need to be answered. They need the whole, sordid story. The counselor’s job is to facilitate that conversation and provide safety for both partners. In effect, the therapist bridges the gap between the partners by articulating with great precision what the hurt partner is feeling and ensuring that the other fully understands.

The betrayer’s task is to be open and honest, and answer the betrayed partner’s questions in a truthful, forthright manner. It is very important the details of the affair not be glossed over or minimized, otherwise this fragile relationship will suffer another blow when more details surface at a later date. The betrayer also has the obligation to express remorse and take responsibility for what happened. Any attempts to blame the affair on the “problems in the relationship” will be heard as making excuses for their behavior, or even worse, heard as blaming their partner. That will certainly sabotage the conversation.

The betrayed partner is asked to pose whatever questions might be on their mind. The therapist might need to guide them away from asking detailed questions about sex because those answers might increase their trauma. The betrayed partner will likely want to know why it happened. The “Why?” question is an important one, but is really a Phase 2 question. The Phase 1 questions are more about getting the details of the story, such as when, where, how. The therapist should be aware that the betrayed partner is struggling with PTSD symptoms such as nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and triggers. It is important that the betrayed partner be able to share their feelings, but to do so without attacking their partner. Most people will find that a very difficult task, so the therapist needs to be quick to intervene if the conversation becomes critical or contemptuous. In some cases, several sessions are required to get through this atoning conversation and it’s recommended that the couple refrain from having this conversation at home.

My wife had an affair. She tells me that she is no longer lying, and that at some point I have to trust her again. I find it hard to do this because she lied for over a year, and continued for some months after discovery of the affair. How can I learn to trust her again? 

This is an example of the dangers inherent in trying to cover up or minimize a betrayal. When someone lies repeatedly to their partner, he or she does damage way beyond the betrayal itself. It’s really another, separate betrayal.

Trust takes time to rebuild. There is no specific time frame for completing the process. It is important that you communicate exactly what you need from your partner in order to trust her again. This might mean a bit of trial and error. Put some focus on rebuilding the positive experiences in your relationship by developing ritual of connection activities. Take an evening walk together, sit down to dinner together, check in with each other at the end of the day to talk about stressing or interesting things that happened to each of you. Focus on tuning in daily and turning towards each other during the small, everyday moments.


Don and Carrie are Master Certified Gottman Therapists, Consultants, Trainers, and Workshop Leaders. They are the co-founders of The Center for Relationship Wellness, a private practice for therapy, consultation, and training in the Houston, Texas area.

Visit The Gottman Relationship Blog for more information on creating stronger relationships.


Do you work with some couples and wonder,“Can I help repair this damaged relationship?”

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The Race to Right Here Right Now: Mindfulness as a key to lasting happiness

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but you can download three favorite (and free!) mindfulness techniques developed especially for teens.

The documentary Race to Nowhere made a powerful impact on me. The film highlights the state of the problems facing our youth today and the impact of always feeling we have to strive to get somewhere and do something.

Subsequently, I was asked to speak at an inaugural conference, Wisdom 2.0 Youth. I was asked for the title of my talk and somehow Race to Right Here Right Now arose in my mind. What first presented as a fleeting thought, an idea for a catchy title for a talk, has remained with me years later.

Many of us, at a very young age, are already racing to somewhere, but we’re losing the race to being right here, right now. We always want to attain a goal, accomplish a task, or move forward in our education or our career. But how often do we just sit in what is? What would happen to our youth if instead of racing for the next life hurdle we taught them to race towards mindfulness and embrace being right here, right now in the present moment?

Mindfulness is the perfect tool for youth to manage everyday stressors like school pressures, difficulty focusing and feelings of being over-committed. Even in the midst of very difficult times and struggles, if we widen our eyes just a little bit, there is something beautiful worth seeing, and that can rejuvenate us.

I encourage you, and the youth you interact with, to start the race to mindfulness. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but you can download my three favorite (and free!) mindfulness techniques developed especially for teens.

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This blog was contributed by PESI speaker Gina M. Biegel, LMFT. Gina is a San Francisco Bay Area based psychotherapist, researcher and author specializing in bringing mindfulness-based work with adolescents. She is the founder of Stressed Teens, which has offered the MBSR-T to adolescents, families, schools, professionals and the community for over 12 years.

She is the author of the Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens: Mindfulness Skills to Help You Deal with Stress and the Be Mindful Card Deck for Teens.


Positive Power: A strategy for behavioral challenges in children

Getting a child to follow directions can be difficult. But getting a child with oppositional, defiant or disruptive behavior to follow directions is a full time job. If you work with children that have challenging behaviors, try this easy-to-use Positive Power strategy presented by PESI speaker Jennifer Wilke-Deaton, MA, LPA.

Getting a child to follow directions can be difficult. But getting a child with oppositional, defiant or disruptive behavior to follow directions is a full time job. If you work with children that have challenging behaviors, try this easy-to-use Positive Power strategy presented by PESI speaker Jennifer Wilke-Deaton, MA, LPA.


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Ha Kriya: A breathwork exercise

The leading voice in the children’s yoga and mindfulness community, Jennifer Cohen Harper, MA, E-RCYT, presents her favorite way to empower the children she works with. This segment will show you how to prepare a child for challenging tasks using our most powerful tool: breath.

The leading voice in the children’s yoga and mindfulness community, Jennifer Cohen Harper, MA, E-RCYT, presents her favorite way to empower the children she works with. This segment will show you how to prepare a child for challenging tasks using our most powerful tool: breath.

Will you use Ha Kriya with your clients? Share your thoughts below.


Self_Regulation