Kennedy Center offers ‘sensory-friendly’ concerts for children with special needs


Kennedy Center offers ‘sensory-friendly’ concerts for children with special needs

By Katherine Boyle
The children do not know that the music is about war, yet they stomp along with the fury. A young boy shakes his hands as though they have caught fire, keeping tempo with the violin’s shrieks. A girl in a pink romper, no older than 6, jumps to her feet to conduct from the 12th row. And at the abrupt end, the children wail without inhibition, because this is how one feels after hearing Shostakovich’s Eighth String Quartet; this is how one feels when dropped from its dizzying pull. And when children with autism or special needs feel something inside, they often express themselves with movements and sounds.
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Kennedy Center offers ‘sensory-friendly’ concerts for children with special needs

John F. Kennedy Center for the Perfoming Arts’ Office of VSA & Accessibility

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Office of VSA & Accessibility, based in Washington, DC, has a number of national programs focused on the disability experience for performing and visual arts students in grades K-12. Some of these programs, for example, our VSA International Young Soloist Program, also serve emerging professional artists, primarily college and graduate level students with disabilities. Most of our programs directly serve students with disabilities, with the exception of our VSA Playwright Discovery Competition, which works to raise awareness about the disability experience and is therefore open to all students.
We are concerned that there are a large number of young and emerging artists who would be excellent candidates for our programs, but that they and their teachers, parents, or caregivers may not be aware of our programs or realize that they are eligible. As the 504/accessibility coordinator working with your regional and state arts organizations, we hope that you will help spread the word about these long-standing programs. Most are still accepting entries for this year, but do have application deadlines in May or June.
You may already be familiar with our programs, especially if you have a VSA Affiliate in your state, but in case you are not, I have included information about each of our performing and visual arts programs below. If you have questions about any of our programs or would like for us to send you hard copy materials, please feel free to contact Sonya Robbins-Hoffmann, VSA Programs Manager, at 202-416-8822 or, or McKenzie Midock, VSA Programs Coordinator, at 202-416-8833 or Thanks in advance for helping us spread the word.
We are also always happy to hear from you about programming for students with disabilities in your geographic region. Please let us know about any programming that you find particularly strong and innovative. We are always looking for best practices in arts education for students with disabilities.
John F. Kennedy Center for the Perfoming Arts’ Office of VSA & Accessibility