‘Star Wars’, ‘Back to the Future’, and ‘Wizard of Oz’ were a few of my favorite movies as a kid. There is no avoiding the fact that these movies are best watched at the theater. There is something about watching a movie on a big screen, with great sound effects and being able to share this experience with a crowd that make you feel you are part of the movie. Unfortunately, for children with autism, the effects that make the movie so amazing for us may be extremely overwhelming for them. I remember when I would go to the movies with my little sister when we were younger that she would plug her ears throughout the whole movie because it was too loud for her.
She was a normally developing kid, and still the sounds were too loud. For children with autism, this experience is even worse. Silvia Townsend describes her experience of bringing her 12-year-old son Bailey to the movies. “He was terrified when the lights turned off. And when the loud music started, he was covering his ears and started screaming in obvious pain.” No parent wants to see their child suffer, but parents with children with autism also want to be able to share the moments they had as a kid with their own children.
So far no research has been able to explain the auditory sensitivity that children with autism experience. There is also advice available on the web for techniques on how to provide the best environment for your child with autism. Some advice that I think would be useful is:
1. Sit in the back of the room, for easier access to exits, more room to move around, and to lessen the distraction for other moviegoers, if these issues are a concern.
2. Bring earphones to subdue the loud noise.
3. Bring snacks or toys for the child to play with, especially if it is something that helps them to calm down with all the excitement of the movie theater experience.
In the age of advanced technology and the increased awareness of autism you would think there would be something to help families to deal with the challenges of the movie theater setting. I was very excited to learn that AMC theaters are doing their part by offering sensory friendly screenings. What does this mean? There are no more super loud noises, the lights are turned on, and you’re allowed to bring all the snacks you want (without them making you throw it away, or needing to hide them in a purse). No advertisements are shown prior to the movie either. Audience members are allowed to get up, dance, and sing along. In other words, it is a movie watching experience exactly like being at home, except with a way bigger screen, and so much more fun.
These sensory friendly screenings are offered at 12 different California locations and all over the country. They normally screen a family friendly movie one a month for a $4-6 price of admission. Last month, the movie ‘Yogi Bear’ was shown all over the country to families with children with autism. To find out about the next screening you can follow this website: http://www.theautismnews.com/?s=sensory+friendly+film. I hope more opportunities like this become available to better assist children with autism and their families.