If your child is autistic, chances are your family doesn’t do the usual kid friendly activities other families do. Amusement parks, restaurants and movie theaters can be uncomfortable places for children with autism. Autistic children often have sensory issues which make new experiences difficult. Families of autistic children have a hard time finding an entertainment venue where their children can feel comfortable.
Movie theaters across the country have begun to recognize the need to provide entertainment for autistic children and their families. April is Autism Awareness Month and is also the first anniversary of the Sensory Friendly Films program. The Sensory Friendly Films program was created by AMC Entertainment and the Autism Society. Newly released films are screened once a month on a Saturday morning in selected theaters around the country. During a sensory friendly movie, the lights are left on, the volume is lowered and children are free to move around the theater and lobby. The program is getting rave reviews from parents.
Theater companies are also working to make plays accessible to families with autistic children. In October 2011, the Theater Development Fund (TDF) produced the first autism -friendly Broadway play, an adaption of “The Lion King“. Two more shows, “Mary Poppins” and “The Lion King” are planned for 2012.
Ticketholders were able to download a story with pictures of the theater and production months before the performance, so their children could become familiar with the setting. Autistic children often prefer the familiar and can have trouble in new surroundings. As with the Sensory Friendly Films program, the theater experience is tailored to the needs of autistic children.
Other theaters are adapting plays for the autistic audience. The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, in a partnership with the Pushcart Players, is running a series of modified musicals. The theater even offers a “Meet Your Seat” open house so the children can become familiar with the theater building.
As the number of children with autism continues to climb, movie houses and theaters are helping to provide an entertainment outlet that was not available in the past. Parents of autistic children can now enjoy a popular entertainment event with their entire family.
Inside Jersey Magazine, April 2012m “Sensory-Friendly Theater” by Greg Waxberg