The Autism Society of America and AMC Entertainment have come together to create Sensory Friendly Films for kids on the autism spectrum. The program offers families an opportunity to enjoy movies without worry.
Movie Theaters and Autism
Traditional movie theaters are not the ideal environment for autistic kids. The lights dim, creating a dark, strange setting, plus many other challenges for kids on the spectrum are present. Behavior problems are among the most troublesome.
- Unable to sit still
- Self-stimulatory behaviors, like hand flapping
- Talking and vocal outbursts
Concession stands offer classic snacks for movie-goers, but few offer foods for a gluten free, casein free diet that many kids on the spectrum follow. Families have little choice when it comes to refreshments for their children at the theater and most don't allow people to bring in snacks.
A typical visit to the movies with an autistic child ends early; the parents either become so overwhelmed they take the child out of the setting or they are asked to leave. The notion of an enjoyable afternoon with the kids at a matinee was bleak until the introduction of Sensory Friendly Films.
AMC Entertainment and Autism Society Partnership
Working with the Autism Society of America, AMC Entertainment has developed an atmosphere that addresses the needs of kids on the autism spectrum. The TIME article, Autistic Kids at the Movies: Where Shhhh Isn't Allowed, discusses the inspiration for the project.
A 7-year old autistic girl and her mother were asked to leave a movie theater because the child became too excited and too loud for other movie-goers. After the incident, the mother, Marianne Ross, called an AMC movie theater in Columbia, Maryland to talk about adaptations the company could make for kids with autism. Dan Harris, the theater's manager, took time to hear her suggestions and set up a screening.
The focus is on developing a movie environment that is sensitive to autistic children's unique needs. The comfortable setting differs from traditional movie theaters in a number of ways.
- Lights are not turned down during the screening
- Volume is not too loud
- Families can bring their own snacks
- Children are allowed to move around the theater
- Children are allowed to make noise
The autistic-friendly atmosphere is tolerant and accepting and many parents breathe a sigh of relief just allowing their children to be themselves. Community settings can be a great source of stress, from a simple jaunt to the grocery store to doctor's office waiting room. Few places in the community are accepting of many autistic behaviors and kids have been removed from restaurants, stores and even churches.
Behavior intervention plans for autistic children often require visiting community settings to cultivate desired behaviors. This requires practice and it requires tolerance among those in the surroundings. It can be frustrating for therapists and behavior therapists because the behaviors improve with the right interventions, if only the child is given a chance.
Jessica Fleming is a reporter and a parent of a son with autism who shares her experience with the special setting for autistic movie-goers. Among the most outstanding details about her experience is her connection with other parents. "We were all in the same boat, and none of us had to worry we'd be kicked out of because our kids weren't behaving."
Where to Find Sensory Friendly Movies
Families in the United States interested in visiting theaters that offer Sensory Friendly Films can visit Autism-Society.org. The site offers a list of participating theaters, organized by state. In addition, AMC Entertainment has a list of theaters organized by city.
Going to the theater is an experience that every family should have the opportunity to do without feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Theaters that accept the unusual behaviors of kids on the spectrum offer an opportunity for children to enjoy films in their way.