GOING TO THE cinema can be a challenging experience for those with autism but since an initiative was successfully launched 11 months ago, hundreds of people have attended special sensory-friendly movie screenings across Ireland.
Dimensions, the group behind the project, told TheJournal.ie that in the past three showings alone, 278 people enjoyed films at Odeon complexes in Belfast, Naas, Limerick, Coolock, Blanchardstown and Stillorgan.
The group expects another good turnout later this month as Ice Age 4: Continental Drift is shown across the participating theatres on 15 July.
The partnership was developed in the UK and Ireland in August 2011 and since then one film per month is chosen for a special screening. It allows people who are sometimes excluded from traditional film-going experiences to watch newly-released movies in an environment conducive with their needs.
The film screenings are mainstream blockbusters shown in a sensory-friendly environment – lights are on low, sound is turned down, trailers are omitted and people can bring their own food, make noise and move around the cinema if they wish.
Gail Greenwood, an expert support advisor from Dimensions, explains that many parents fear taking their children anywhere which may cause they distress.
“Nobody wants to cause their child to feel alarmed or in danger and the truth is that many mainstream activities such as catching public transport, going out for a meal or watching a film at your local cinema can sometimes not be conducive with the needs of people with autism,” she said.
People with autism have varying levels of sensitivity and it isn’t something that is widely understood. For example, the flashing lights and loud sound effects during the trailers of a film could be amplified to someone who is autistic, causing them distress. It is common for some of the people I support with autism to have a heightened awareness to lights, smells, taste, touch and sound and this could cause them anxiety.
New films are chosen each month because, previously, people who would benefit from quieter auditoriums or friendly screenings would have to wait until a film has been out for a while.
Commenting on the success of the programme so far, chief executive of Dimensions Steve Scown said, “I am pleased that the screenings in Ireland are proving popular. We are 11 months into the partnership and receive positive feedback about the screening because they allow people who experience autism and learning disabilities to access mainstream films in an environment where they fell comfortable.”
“The screenings are all about inclusion,” added Lisa Hopkins, the director of specialist development at the UK-based organisation.
The cinema experience can be a particularly challenging environment but this is one that can be made accessible by good partnership working. Autism-friendly films are all about inclusion. As an organisation we would like to get people talking and thinking about other ways in which society can be more inclusive to everyone.
Tickets for the special screenings will be available from 11am next Wednesday, 11 July by calling the Odeon accessibility number on 08001383315 or visiting the website.