101 Stories: Dr. Jen Smith & The Sensory-Friendly Committee

By The Children's Theatre

Celebrate TCT’s 101st season as it comes to a close as we applaud and appreciate those who contributed to the organization’s magic throughout our century-long journey.  During 10 weeks of recognition, we honor individuals who have been instrumental in the success of TCT, and who have not only helped TCT grow in mission, but also thrive, thanks to their passion.  It is these people and their moments in our history that shaped TCT to become what it is today. We encourage you to consider giving a gift in their honor to ensure the sustainability of TCT’s mission for the next 100+ years. 

Dr. Jen Smith (center) and The Children’s Hospital Team at Mary Poppins JR. at the Taft Theatre

In 2016, The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati began offering Sensory-Friendly performances. These are special performances intended for individuals with developmental disabilities including those on the autism spectrum who may benefit and their classmates and families, not the general public. Only a limited number of tickets are sold. All seats are by reservation with very limited wheelchair seating available. 

A committee of experts in the field was created to aid TCT with these performances, including staff members from Theatre Development Fund’s Autism Theatre Initiative— the organization that implements sensory-friendly performances on Broadway, Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati Occupational Therapy Institute, Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, The Point/Arc of Northern Kentucky, The Children’s Home of Cincinnati and Jenn Jordan, on-air personality on radio station Q102. 

Heading up the Committee is Dr. Jen D. Smith, Clinical Psychologist, Director of the Cincinnati Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Dr. Smith’s team, along with TCT’s Sensory-Friendly Committee, has truly made these performances possible.

“As a professional who has had the pleasure of working with children with developmental disabilities and their families for many years, I have learned that there are many barriers that these families face. The world is chaotic and overstimulating. Society caters to those who “fit in.” Those with any differences are often met with judgment, which can lead to isolation and the desire to retreat to what is comfortable. This is especially true for families of children with developmental disabilities. These families have limited opportunities for community inclusion, not because of their child’s disability, but because of the way the world is built around them.” 

“The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati has recognized their role in ensuring that community inclusion is a right for ALL patrons by making theatre accessible to children with developmental disabilities and their families. Our families want the same opportunities offered to everyone else. TCT’s Sensory-Friendly performances provide a welcoming, judgment-free environment where families can make precious memories together. By making a few small modifications to sound, lighting, and crowd size, TCT has opened up live theatre to a new audience that is often overlooked.” 

“I have been impressed by TCT’s commitment to community inclusion and their desire to approach this work thoughtfully and systematically by engaging families and experienced professionals from the beginning. I have gained invaluable insights into how live theatre can connect with children in a priceless way. ” 

“We at the Cincinnati LEND program at Cincinnati Children’s are proud to be a part of TCT’s Sensory-Friendly performances. We look forward to our ongoing collaboration with TCT as we strive to make Cincinnati the most inclusive and accessible city in the country. Working with TCT has been such a pleasure. I can’t wait to get back in person with this work – my heart and soul have missed it so much. I am so proud of TCT and the welcoming place it is for our kids and families.” 

Would you honor Dr. Jen Smith with a gift to recognize the impact made on TCT?