Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Special movie showings let autistic kids, adults enjoy theater in own ways

TOWN 'N COUNTRY

Loud noises bother 3-year-old Jonathan Leon. So the seat-thumping surround sound blasting from a movie theater's speakers can be too much for him to handle. But on a recent Saturday morning, Jonathan settled down in the stadium seating at AMC Veterans 24, and his mother knew there would be no problems.

That's because of a partnership between AMC Theatres and the Autism Society of America. Called "Sensory Friendly Films," the program shows new releases each month and, for some families in Hillsborough County, it's the only way they can catch the latest flick.

The atmosphere makes it possible.

The lights are only slightly dimmed, the sound is turned down low and the theater's "silence is golden" policy is thrown out the window. The audience is encouraged to get out of their seats, dance or walk in the aisles and make noise if they want.

For those with autism, that means freedom.

"When you have a child with autism, your world often ends at your front door," said Marguerite Colston, vice president of the autism society. "Now they have an event they can go to once a month where they won't be judged and will be comfy."

The idea for the sensory-friendly films came about in 2008 when a Maryland mother of an autistic child tried going to a movie, Colston said. When her daughter got excited and made noise, others made them feel unwelcome.

The mother spoke with an AMC manager and set up a special event where people with autism and sensory-sensitive issues could watch a movie in a modified environment.

The event sparked so much interest it caught the attention of the Autism Society and a partnership with AMC formed. Now, the films can be seen in 125 AMC theaters across the country.

"There are not many places you can take special-needs kids," said Jonathan's mother, Barbara Leon, who lives in Wesley Chapel. "But here I don't have to worry if he's too loud. Here, they understand."

Alexandra Fernandez's son, Lucas Garcia, 9, likes to laugh — loud. When Garcia took him to regular movies in the past, he has felt like an outcast.

"People get annoyed, say comments because they don't understand," Fernandez of Tampa, said.

Before a recent sensory showing, Fernandez said she couldn't wait to hear her son laugh as loud as he wanted during the film.

"It's just wonderful that, here, no one is going to judge," she said.

Children and adults with autism can easily feel overwhelmed in movie theaters because of the darkness and the amplified sound, said Dr. Karen Berkman, executive director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the University of South Florida.

The ability to move around and make noises actually helps autistic people stay better focused, Berkman said.

"We do want to make the community a friendly place so everyone has access to fun things but with just slight changes," she said.

Changes like the ones that allow Tony Barker, a 12-year-old with severe autism, to watch a movie with his dad despite getting out of his seat every few minutes to bang his fist on the wall.

The last time Tony set foot in a movie theater was when he was 5 years old. He only lasted a half hour, said his father, Jim Barker of Carrollwood.

When his son's school told him about the Sensory Friendly Film program, he jumped at the chance to take him.

"The more he gets out there the better off he'll be to interact with society," Barker said.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

>>fast facts

If you go

The next Sensory Friendly Film is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, showing at 10 a.m. Saturday at AMC Veterans 24, 9302 Anderson Road, Tampa. Moviegoers pay regular theater admission, which is $6 per person before noon. For more information on upcoming Sensory Friendly Films, visit amctheatres.com/SFF.

Special movie showings let autistic kids, adults enjoy theater in own ways 11/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 22, 2010 11:33am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Yale dean on leave over offensive Yelp reviews leaves post

    Bizarre News

    NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Yale University dean who was placed on leave over offensive reviews she posted on Yelp has left her position at the Ivy League institution, school officials said Tuesday.

  2. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  3. The people you meet along O.J. Howard Lane

    Bucs

    AUTAUGAVILLE, Ala. —The screen door hangs open to Laura's Country Kitchen but the dining room is empty with no one to feed.

    OJ Howard (far right) is seen in a photo from his adolescent years at Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala., on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Howard served as an usher in addition to attending regular services at this church.
  4. St. Pete Pride schedule and live blog

    Special Topics

    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth Avenue …

    A local business rings in Pride 2017 with some window decorations.