For some moviegoers living with autism or special needs, going to watch their favorite films at a theater can be difficult.
Because one of the most common problems that individuals with autism face is extreme or low sensory-overload issues, each person reacts to stimuli differently. With sensory overload, individuals with autism view things sharply. They may not like bright lights or airborne dust and could be sensitive to sudden or loud noises. Others are hypersensitive in that seeing, hearing or feeling something makes them feel uncomfortable.
Recently, the management team at Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas Hamlin took notice and inspired the company’s new program, Sensory-Friendly Screenings.
“It was with (the team’s) initiation and support that we were able to pilot and test the program at the Winter Garden location,” said Ryan Clawson, general manager of Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas Hamlin. “The team collectively saw the difficulty parents face when seeing a movie or going out to dinner and took the opportunity to help the community.”
According to Cinépolis, the Hamlin location was chosen as the pilot because of Clawson and his team’s passion and support of the initiative.
A sensory-friendly screening consists of free space to roam about within the auditorium and a positive atmosphere to be expressive. The lights are dimmed but not fully off, the volume is set to a lower decibel and no trailers are shown. Additionally, movie-goers get to enjoy their film from the comfort of Cinépolis’ reclining seats.
And although individuals with autism may commonly deal with sensitivity issues, Clawson said his theater’s sensory-friendly screenings are not limited to just that audience.
“The screenings are not specifically targeted at one group,” Clawson said. “They are for the purpose of inclusion. Anyone who wants to see a screening in a more welcoming and sensory-friendly environment is encouraged to attend.”
Cinépolis joins AMC Theatres in offering sensory-friendly screenings for those with special needs. AMC teamed up with the Autism Society in 2007 to offer its own Sensory Friendly Films program, with the goal of providing a more accepting and comfortable setting for customers facing sensory challenges.
Cinépolis’ pilot program launched March 16 with a showing of “Wonder Park.” The 2019 schedule of sensory-friendly showings includes eight more films through July, including “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “The Secret Life of Pets.”
Showings take place at 10 a.m. on select Saturdays, and the movie schedule also is posted online on Cinépolis’ website. Although the theater is currently piloting the program at its Hamlin location, guests who wish to have sensory-friendly screenings at other Cinépolis locations are encouraged to email customer service at cinepolisusa.com/contact-us.
“Often, parents feel anxiety when taking children (with autism) or those with special needs to the movies or traditionally quiet places,” Clawson said. “Our goal is to run the program indefinitely and roll out nationwide after we test the sensory-friendly amenities in Hamlin. Once we are confident the offerings are well-received, we will roll out at additional locations nationwide.”