Going to a movie theatre with your children is something many parents may take for granted. For families that have a child with autism, a trip to the movies could be stressful at best and potentially not even an option at worst. However, one Canadian movie theatre company is making an effort to change that by giving autistic children a movie experience geared specifically to their unique needs.
Symptoms associated with autism as well as their severity can vary greatly between children. However, there are some common symptoms that can make simple tasks or experiences more difficult for children with autism. It’s common for children with autism to have unusual responses to sensory input. They often process sounds, smells and movement differently than other children, and often in a way that makes them feel overwhelmed or scared.
In partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, Cineplex Entertainment will be presenting Sensory Friendly Screenings to specifically cater to the unique sensory needs of children with autism. The screenings will include 2-D projection, increased lighting, lower volume and smaller crowds. The theatre will also offer a “calm zone” if a child needs to step out for a bit and take a break from the movie. Parents will also be able to bring in outside food or drink, which is important considering some of the specific dietary needs of children with autism.
Michelle, a mother of an autistic son, welcomes the idea. Previous attempts at going to the movies didn’t go well. “There was a small movie theatre in an inflatable place we used to go to, and we had to stop going because he kept flipping the lights on and off and would melt down when he couldn’t,” she said. “The only actual movie we took him to see was Ratatouille, and we made it for about five minutes.”
However, she isn’t sure the situation is quite right for her son’s special needs. “There is no ‘sit down so others can see’ with him or ‘talk softly so others can hear.’ He has to run, draw or write while the movie is on but later act it out word for word, as if he’s in the movie. It’s called scripting,” she said.
Because the autism spectrum is so vast and the symptoms can be very different, Michelle suggests parents go in with an open mind. “Parents will have to understand whenever they go it’s going to be a different experience,” she said. She also suggests making even further accommodations for the needs of different children. She thinks headphones or more closed-off areas where children could be as loud as they want without disrupting others or an area where children could roam around would be helpful too.
It may be nearly impossible for a theatre to accommodate all the specific needs a child might have, but this is still a big step in the right direction. For children that struggle specifically with sensory issues, this offers a great opportunity for both children and their parents to do a very common childhood activity without worrying about what other people are thinking or without causing more stress for the child than necessary.
The first screening will be on Feb. 14 and will feature The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. People of all ages will be able to purchase tickets for a Sensory Friendly Screening for the cost of a child’s ticket. The special screenings will be held every four to six weeks on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. For more information on the screenings or to find out when the next one will be, visit the Cineplex website.