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.
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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.”