For many of us, a trip to the movie theater means a couple of hours silently relaxing in a chair, munching on buttery popcorn and being entertained as images and sounds are projected at us in the dark.
But for anyone with autism spectrum disorder, “all of these things can be incredibly challenging,” said Candra Donaldson, operations manager for California Autism Center & Learning Group in Fresno.
Children with autism spectrum disorder have levels of social, communicative and behavioral difficulties, explained Donaldson. Some may also have sensory processing issues, which can can make them very sensitive to sights, sounds, textures, flavors and smells.
“The lights and sounds that emanate from the screen and speakers can be very overwhelming,” Donaldson continued. “That’s a lot of sensory input coming at these kids at once; and for many, bright lights and loud sounds are painful.”
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Sitting still and remaining silent while watching a movie can be hard for children with autism, Donaldson said.
“When children with ASD get excited, it can often cause them to flap their hands, make some noise, clap, shout, rock in their seats, the list goes on and on,” she said.
Sierra Vista Cinema 16 introduced once-a-month Sensory Sensitive Films this year to make a trip to the theater more comfortable for families with children with autism.
During the films, usually the most popular animated or family flick available that month, the theater’s lights remain on, the volume is turned down and no ads or trailers are shown.
Clovis residents Shelly and Jason Reyes plan to watch the sensory-friendly showing of Disney/Pixar’s “Finding Dory” on Saturday. Their 11-year-old son, Jalen, was diagnosed with autism at age 5. Their 6-year-old daughter, Cammy, is not on the autism spectrum.
It will be the family’s first time at Sierra Vista Cinema 16’s Sensory Sensitive showing, but the Reyeses have attended similar programs at other theaters, including Maya Cinema’s Maya Cares special screenings.
“It is an optimal environment for our son to be in a movie theater because we are surrounded by other families like us and the movie is not too loud or too bright,” Shelly said.
She and her family usually try to watch movies on weekdays during non-peak times when the movie theater is not packed, she said.
“We want to be sensitive to other people at the theater. Jalen gets loud sometimes because he’s excited about the movie,” Shelly said. “We take a lot of breaks and watch for his cues that the sensory input is just too much for him at the moment.”
Jalen might cover his ears, repeat words or even verbalize, “break,” Shelly said.
“We’ll go outside and wait for him to calm down and then go in again,” she explained. “He finally sat through an entire movie recently — “Angry Birds.” He loved it.”
Donaldson said sensory-friendly film showings give families who have children with autism an opportunity to be around other families who know the struggles they face.
“Taking their kids to see a movie doesn’t have to be this anxiety provoking event,” she said. “They get to get out of the house, have a great time with their kids and meet other families that can relate to what they’re going through.”
“Cammy gets to be around other siblings that are like her, who have a brother or sister on the spectrum, which is important too,” she said.
Sensory Sensitive Films are shown at 10 a.m. the last Saturday of each month at Sierra Vista Mall Cinemas 16, 1300 Shaw Ave., Clovis.
“Angry Birds” will be shown Saturday.
“Ice Age: Collision Course” is scheduled for July 30, “Pete’s Dragon” is set for Aug. 27 and “Richard the Stork” will show on Sept. 24.
Check www.sierravistamall.com for updates.
Matinee ticket prices apply.
Details: (559) 297-3456.