Most children love going to the cinema, but while movie-going is a pleasant experience for many families, it can be difficult for families with children with autism. The bright screen in a very dark room and the loud sounds from surrounding speakers is often over-stimulating and frightening for children with autism, and they often have to leave before the movie is over. Still other children find it difficult to sit still or stay quiet for an entire film, leading to the disruption of other families.
The Autism Society and AMC Theaters have teamed up to present “Sensory Friendly Films” for children with autism and their families. The movies are family-friendly, and the traditional “Silence is Golden” philosophy is thrown out the window.
During these screenings, the lights in the auditorium will be brought up, and the sound will be turned down. Families are encouraged to bring their own gluten- and casein-free snacks, and the audience is allowed to stand up, walk around, dance, shout, or sing. Basically any behavior is allowed unless it presents harm or danger to the other audience members.
For those who do not know much about autism might not understand that children with autism are extremely sensitive to the sights and sounds in a typical movie theater, and this stimulation often leads to distress or discomfort, or the stimulation is so thrilling that a child with autism might screech with excitement. The accommodation of simply turning up the lights and turning down the volume of the speakers is an easy gesture with a big payoff. For those of us who really love going to the cinema, we should be more understanding that children with autism also want to enjoy a movie with their families.
These Sensory Friendly Films are presented about once a month, depending on your area, and they provide all children with that special movie-going experience, which is often a rare occurrence for individuals with special needs.
The idea is not much different than a mother attending a movie with a baby, and autism advocates suggest these events will help transition children with autism into the ability to get used to the cinema environment and even become comfortable in typical movie theater situations.
Most families with children with autism often simply wait for films to be released on DVD, where they can enjoy the film in their own, safe environment and with food that fits their diets. However, these Sensory Friendly Films encourage children to experience an event within their community, which helps build social and living skills children with autism can use later in life.