With a 16-year old son on the autism spectrum, Chrissy McNair said she has a hard time going to the movies. The visual and auditory stimuli of a regular movie can bother children with autism.
The Gateway Film Center offers a solution in its sensory-friendly film screenings.
On Saturday, the Gateway will be showing “Shrek” for its monthly sensory-friendly film screening. The movie will be presented with lower volume in a theater with the house lights on.
The Gateway Film Center works with Ohio State’s Nisonger Center, which performs research and provides education on developmental disabilities. The center also provides services to those with developmental disabilities and their families, like the screenings at the Gateway.
“Children with autism have heightened sensitivity to loud noises and light,” said Tamara Hager, manager of outreach and engagement at Nisonger Center. “Regular movies may be really loud and dark and provide limitations.”
Jason Tostevin, vice president of communications and marketing for the Gateway Film Center, said these aspects of the sensory-friendly films are, “out of respect for the families and to reduce stimulus for those attending.”
Judgment from others is another problem that children with autism face, said Ginny Bryan, a resource specialist for the Autism Society Central Ohio.
“They may get up, sing along with the movie, or make noises which is not appropriate for regular movies,” Bryan said.
Bryan added that the experience of attending a movie at a theater, and just getting out in public in general, is important for children with autism.
“It allows individuals to manage their sensory stimuli and be comfortable in a sensory environment, allowing them to better relate to others,” Bryan said.
The sensory-friendly films provided by the Gateway allow both parents and children to enjoy a movie, free of judgment, said Bryan, who has a son with autism.
“We can be ourselves and no one will judge,” Bryan said. “I can relax because he can be himself.”
McNair also said sensory-friendly films are comforting.
“It’s so refreshing to go to a movie or other event in public, where you know people will be understanding and accommodating,” McNair said.
Tostevin said he has seen positive reactions from the families that attend the sensory-friendly films.
“We see joy, relief, acceptance and a sense of being welcomed,” he said.
Additionally, the screenings are free, providing families another incentive to attend these movies. Hager said offering free movies encourages more participation, breaking through another barrier for some families.
“We made them free to make it more inclusive, and that increased attendance,” Tostevin said.
Sensory-friendly films are shown on the second Saturday of the month at 11 a.m., and on Sunday if Ohio State football has a home game.
Gateway will feature “Arthur Christmas” as its sensory screening in December.