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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Monthly Sensory Friendly Films made for kids with autism

toothfairy1

"The Tooth Fairy" is the Feb. 6 Sensory Friendly Film, monthly screenings for families with kids with autism.

I had every intention of heading to a Sensory Friendly Film screening of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” this morning, but woke up feeling crummy and like hanging out in a movie theater could end badly for me and all the kids there.

The good news is that my colleague, Jill Vejnoska, wrote last year about these screenings. I couldn’t find the story on AJC.com, so it’s republished below.  The screenings were designed for families with children who have autism. The lights stay up a bit, the sound is turned down and the ads are cut out. More importantly, nobody is annoyed or unkind if a kid starts to sing or walk around.

Carin Yavorcik, the Autism Society media specialist, said the idea started with a mother in Maryland whose autistic daughter got really into a movie and began to dance. They were asked to leave. The mother asked if they could have a special screening, and it grew quickly.

The first national Sensory Friendly Screening was in August 2008, and they now happen monthly in about 87 theaters in 46 markets, including three theaters in Georgia. The next one will be at 10 a.m. Feb. 6.

“For families, I think it’s knowing that if there was an issue, there wouldn’t be an issue,” Yavorcik said. “It’s a chance to go out and do something taken for granted by a lot of other families.”

Want to go? Sensory Friendly Screenings are scheduled every month. The next one is “The Tooth Fairy” at 10 a.m. Feb. 6. $4-$6 tickets can be purchased the day of the screening. www.autism-society.org or www.asaga.com.

  • AMC Phipps Plaza 14, 3500 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta.
  • AMC Discover Mills 18, 5900 Sugarloaf Pkwy., Ste. 415, Lawrenceville.
  • AMC Southlake 24, 7065 Mount Zion Cir., Morrow.

For instant updates, follow @insideaccess on Twitter.

Here’s Jill’s story, “Autistic kids free to be themselves at movies”:

Eat your tubby heart out, Paul Blart, mall cop. It was Chase Morrison who did the real boffo movie numbers a few Saturdays ago: Four: How many times the Alpharetta 6-year-old scooted out of his seat and up the aisle toward the lobby during a morning showing of “Hotel for Dogs” at the AMC Phipps Plaza.

Three: Number of trips he made to the concessions stand with his father, Chris.

One: Very good time he had, simply getting to be a kid.

“It’s just fun for him, ” Chris Morrison said before he and Chase watched an entire “sensory-friendly” movie with other autistic children and their families. “You don’t always think about that, but it matters.”

Indeed, pint-size Americans are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and — perhaps most important — the pursuit of endless hours of watching “Shrek” and “Harry Potter” in darkened theaters while consuming twice their weight in popcorn and Milk Duds.

But what if the same things that make moviegoing so exciting for kids — cartoon pandas kung fu-ing in blazing Technicolor, that wacky “Madagascar 2″ menagerie playing it for very loud laughs — can prove unsettling to those with autism? Among some of autism’s more common traits are sensitivity to sound, hyperactivity, distress when normal routines are changed, and a tendency to repeat words or phrases.

Not exactly conducive to sitting quietly through, say, “Hotel for Dogs” for more than 90 minutes in a crowded multiplex.

“My son loves to go to the movies, and at the end he has to sing to all the credits, ” said Heidi Fernandez, a Woodstock mother of an autistic 14-year-old, who knows of families that can’t take their children to movies for fear of being asked to leave. “That’s why this is an amazing resource.”

“This” is a recently launched effort to show first-run movies in “sensory-friendly” form at select AMC theaters. The lights are turned up, the sound is turned down, and ads, coming attractions and AMC’s “Silence Is Golden” policy all get the old heave-ho.

That’s why, on this particular Saturday, Chase was free to let out a delighted “A-Ha-HA!” not long after the movie featuring a four-legged troupe straight out of Cuddly K-9 Central Casting had begun.

“In a normal theater, that would get a bunch of ‘Shhhshes, ‘ ” said Chris, who’d purposely sat on the aisle so his son could “escape” when necessary. “But here, nothing.”

Two weeks earlier, they’d tried and failed to make it all the way through “The Tale of Despereaux.” But that was at a regular showing, which Chris and his wife, Beth, had decided to give a try after seeing how much Chase enjoyed one of the first sensory-friendly films at Phipps.

“It was too dark and loud for him, ” said Chris, a manufacturer’s rep for a ceiling fan company. “He was getting up a lot. And he just started laughing at an inappropriate time.”

But on this day, there were no inappropriate times to laugh — or do anything else. Some children hummed softly or repeated favorite words or phrases, while others occasionally drummed the floor with their feet. One little girl rocked back and forth on her mother’s knee, her hands pressed tightly over her ears while her eyes never left the screen. A boy clutching a plastic sword raced up the aisle and back again.

For a newcomer, it wasn’t much more distracting than sitting in a theater full of grownups who “forget” to turn off their cellphones or start whispering about where to go eat halfway through the movie. For the parents and other adults in the audience, the relief at not having to explain their children’s behavior to anyone was obvious.

“It’s more relaxing for us, ” said Chris, who wishes more companies would make similar accommodations for autistic and special needs children. “Frankly, this is a very good business decision. On Sundays when my parents watch the kids, my wife and I are going to go to an AMC theater over any other [chain] because of what they’ve done for us.”

Still, business seemed the furthest thing from his mind as he and his son watched a sweetly silly kids’ movie together from start to finish — albeit with a few brief “escapes.” Returning from one such trip to the lobby, Chase spied his seat and dove for it, an ear-to-ear grin spreading across his face. His father handed him a frozen Edy’s Fruit Bar, his second of the day.

“He wins, ” Chris laughed, watching Chase’s eyes dart between the pooches on screen and the treat in his hand. “There’s a fine line between discipline and just letting him enjoy himself.

“Today, enjoyment wins.”

8 comments Add your comment

Marilyn

June 1st, 2010
9:52 am

I have three girls who have Down Syndrome, and this would be a wonderful idea for us! But why, oh WHY is the only time the movies are shown at 10AM on a Saturday? This lets out Jewish and Seventh Day Adventist kids (like ours), and kids whose fathers work nights (as my husband does), or families who have more than one child to get ready and who can’t just pick up and go first thing in the morning (try getting six kids up and out the door before 9:15–I dare you)! Especially if the theater is fairly far away! What would be wrong with a Sunday afternoon showing? That’s a MUCH better time, and even people who do go to church Sunday morning will be out by then and able to attend. And who wants to eat candy or popcorn at 10AM? I really wish they’d reconsider this time slot.

Julie-90001

March 31st, 2010
3:32 am

This is such a great idea.My son was recently diagnosed with aspergers syndrome at 17 yrs and is devlopementally delayed.its been hard but this idea will allow him to relax and enjoy himself.We plan on attending the next showing at downtown Disney in Anaheim, Ca.The Majic Johnson theatres also offer this as well.I see more and more theatres participating.

dls

January 10th, 2010
8:08 am

I work with special kids and what a wonderful idea! I hope other theaters will follow!

Aquagirl

January 10th, 2010
7:54 am

With autism rates increasing, this sounds like a stellar idea. I have no kids with autism, but I bet it’s a relief for people to be able to go to the theater and relax. With so many screens available there’s no reason for movies to be a one-size fits all experience.

@ Mike D, thanks for the reminder: friends don’t let friends drink and post.

Mike D

January 10th, 2010
2:17 am

I suggest a movie time for family friendly films at most theaters where I don’t have to hear sh*t from others in the audiance. I went to the AMC at Phipps and had to listen to members of the blue jean bandit gang on their cell phones until I moved to Alpharetta. As a family man I like family movies, what Atlanta needs is a Terd free movie zone. (I know I spelled it wrong on purpose).

Jamie Gumbrecht

January 9th, 2010
9:57 pm

Interesting idea, Marie. You make a good point — this is a particularly sensitive approach for families with an autistic child, but for many of them them, just a regular matinee in a G-rated movie might be a friendly enough audience. But I suspect there are many other groups, like some senior citizens, that would appreciate some changes to the movie experience, too. Seems like it could be worth contacting theater companies or advocacy groups to get organized!

Same to you, Valosia. It’s great to see these three theaters participating, but in order to get more on board, it seems like they need a mass of people in one location to say, “Hey, we need this.” Time to get organized.

Good luck to you both, and thanks for commenting!

Valosia

January 9th, 2010
9:41 pm

Interesting, I ran into this article while looking up movies about Autism. I wish they would expand this, to every county. Me and my husband are HFA, my daughter is too on the spectrum. I have many people on the spectrum in my family, we range all over the spectrum. — Anyways, I think it would be extreamlly great for all of those kids and familys who can not even go out because of the fear of something happening. I know how stressful it is on those parents, and I would love to see every county doing it like once a month. Where they can get out of the house and just let there kids have fun. I know it would help them a great deal. Being able to just relax and let there kids have fun, and not feel like there being judged every moment there out.

Marie

January 9th, 2010
7:52 pm

I watched this story on this evening’s new with extreme interest. Has anyone thought about opening up or expanding this type of showing for Senior Citizens? I rarely go to the movie theater because of the darkness and the LOUD sound. I am 71 years old and I would certainly LOVE to go to a movie and be comfortable and be able to see. Thanks for listening. Marie