Today’s mainstream movie experience can be big, bold and loud — driven by 3-D, IMAX and surround-sound technologies and designed to immerse audiences in a fictional world.
But that can sometimes be too much for children with autism, who can have difficulty communicating, reading social cues and tolerating sensory stimulation others take for granted — everything from attending a birthday party to going to the movies.
Renee Hill says the huge screen, darkened room and loud soundtrack often overwhelm her 4-year-old son, Weston, who otherwise loves watching videos.
“You’ll constantly notice him look uncomfortable and cover his ears, but if he really gets overwhelmed, then he’ll just shut down and have a meltdown and start to cry,” Hill explains.
As the national rate of autism diagnoses climbs, parents and advocates have persuaded some theaters to tone it down.
A number of theaters across the country now hold sensory-friendly movie showings to accommodate those with autism: The house lights stay on, the sound remains low, and there are no ads or previews before films. The screenings are beginning to catch on.
The sensory-friendly trend started two years ago, after a Maryland mother got kicked out of a movie theater when her autistic daughter became overwhelmed and disruptive during a showing of Hairspray. The mom got in touch with the Autism Society, a national advocacy group, which in turn contacted the AMC theaters chain about offering a low-key movie option once a month.