Finding Sensory-Friendly Movie Theaters
“How do I go about finding sensory-friendly movie theaters?”
This is a question I was asked by a family member of an autistic child. I actually had to research this one for myself as these sensory-friendly film showings are not often given enough public attention.
My autistic teens are able to watch the regular film showings now. But as younger children we rarely went to the movies in the theaters because they were so loud.
I don’t remember a lot of advertising about sensory-friendly film screenings when they were kids…but maybe it was because my son was already 6 and daughter 4 when it was first introduced by other autism parents. Even today most people have to actively seek out the answer to this question for themselves.
Why Sensory-Friendly Movie Theaters are Popular with Autism Families
First, they appeal to those with sensory sensitivities.
Those who are sound-sensitive don’t have to wear sound-barring headphones as they normally do. Those with a fear of the dark can feel comfortable seeing others around them. Those with high-levels of energy and need for movement to experience the film can move around and not have to sit still for more than an hour.
And let’s face it, sometimes we’d just like to get up and dance to certain musicals!
Second, they appeal to parents.
An autistic child’s parents can enjoy the films with the whole family without worrying about getting dirty looks or rude comments from their neighbors. Being surrounded by other families who “get it” feels like finally belonging to a “supportive tribe”.
This is also a great opportunity to network with other families in which to share knowledge and empathy. This is one setting a family can truly feel more relaxed with one another in public.
Third, they help acclimate the child to being in the public sphere.
The sensory-friendly film settings allow those with autism to feel more comfortable in public settings without needing to always behave “appropriately” as expected by general society. The more times a child goes out for events like this, then parents can teach “public behavior” skills progressively, adding one new behavioral goal with each trip.
For example, they can work on how to ask for a snack from the food counter attendant.
Fourth, you can bring in your own snacks.
Yes, you read that correctly! Since many are on restricted diets, families can bring in gluten-free, casein-free, or other diet-based foods into the theater.
Not pay an arm-and-a-leg for popcorn? Sign me up! (Call ahead to make sure your theater allows this.)
Finding Sensory-Friendly Movie Screenings Near You
While I don’t have the location of EVERY major theater that hosts sensory-friendly films, I can at least help steer you in the right direction to find a local theater that accommodates autistic individuals.
You can start with your local theater company to see if they offer this program on a regular basis.
Our town has two AMC theaters. AMC has been instrumental in making these opportunities happen in the first place. They have developed a beneficial partnership with Autism Society to make autism families aware of their sensory-friendly film showings. They offer family-friendly movies the second and fourth Saturdays of each month and reserve Tuesday evenings for “mature” film viewers.
Regal Cinemas offer a similar program called “My Way Matinee”. Click on each theater to find out about their sensory-friendly programs:
You can check with your local library if they offer sensory-friendly film programs.
For example, our town’s public library showed “Incredibles 2” one afternoon in November. Choice of films will most likely be G and geared toward the young.
You’ll also have to be proactive in seeking out these scheduled films on their website. You’ll need to make room in your schedule if you want to try to see these (mostly likely) free showings that only run one time.
If there is nothing available where you live, get involved in making those opportunities happen for yourself and others!
There are copyright laws concerning the public showing of movies without consent of the owners, of course. Maybe you are part of a small autism support group and would like to have a private showing in your home.
If you think there are enough people in the community who would benefit from a more public event, ask your local theater, library, parks and recreation department, or even disability agencies if they would host a sensory-friendly program.
Greater Choice for Autistic Individuals and their Families
You will need to check showtimes several weeks in advance if you want to see an autism-friendly film showing. While there is not a lot of choice in what film to see and when, the fact is that these sensory-friendly film showings are gaining popularity.
With the support of major autism organizations and large theater companies, the movement is definitely gaining ground. Finding sensory-friendly movie theaters and film screenings should hopefully be easier to access in the future!