It’s autism awareness month, so let’s see a movie!
Most of you people familiar with autism know that April is more than bidding farewell to snow and cold temperatures until the next holiday season (up in Minnesota anyway). April is also autism awareness month, and April 2nd is recognized by the United Nations as World Autism Day. Expect more activity than usual on this site as autism coverage often ramps up in the beginning of the month.
Kicking off the month is a night at the movies! Actually, it’s more a day at the movies, and two theater chains are offering movie screenings designed to allow autistic children to discover why the rest of us enjoy watching a film in theaters. AMC and Kerasotes Theaters in the Chicago area have programs in place to accommodate the bohemian behaviors that usually frustrate moviegoers who have little knowledge of the autism spectrum. AMC runs Sensory Family Screenings while Kerasotes hosts All-Star Saturdays. With both programs, the sound level is reduced while light levels are increased to compensate for the often-increased sensitivity to light and sound from autistics. Children can also clap, dance and sing along to the movie without getting thrown out; autistic children will respond the way their minds tell them to act (not much different than the rest of us, except we don’t say as much during a movie).
I’m not aware of any programs in the Twin Cities area, and as you may have guessed, I don’t require special accommodations to attend a movie screening; my favorite theater to attend happens to be a Kerasotes in downtown Minneapolis. The urban crowds are much looser and find a laugh even with the most serious of films. But I’m not the only autistic in the Twin Cities, and now I won’t be shocked to learn about a theater program that caters to the autistic population in the neighborhood. Logically speaking, offering this alternative benefits all parties: Families can bring their children and not worry about potential outbursts, which often prevents them from seeing family-friendly content before it hits DVD shelves, while the previously untapped audience generates revenue for the theaters and movies. The special events are held monthly (AMC) or weekly (Kerasotes), so there’s little to gain economically in terms of overall revenue for a specific film, but nothing boosts your business like brownie points spread through word-of-mouth (and families affected by autism aren’t too silent).
Special movie screenings are part of what I consider the second phase of autism coverage in popular press. The audience has some understanding of what’s going on, and now appear eager to know what is being done to assist autistics beyond the medical realm. The story is significant because locations that gave us an early glimpse of the spectrum (where else did they show Rain Man when it was first released?) are now giving kids on the spectrum a choice that would never be available when Rain Man was pleasing audiences. Given the popularity, this could inspire other arts venues to give families a choice neurotypical peers often have.