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Empire Reports: Autism-Friendly Cinemas

Posted on Friday April 13, 2012, 18:04 by Phil de Semlyen in Empire States
Empire Reports: Autism-Friendly Cinemas

Flicking through the paper recently, I came across an ad for the Picturehouse chain’s special autism-friendly screenings. It caught my eye for two reasons: firstly, I have a brother with Asperger syndrome who has an unquenchable love of movies (current favourites: War Horse; anything with titans in it); and secondly, it was adorned with a whopping great picture of Pirate Captain from Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists, which I loved. Needless to say, he’s brandishing a fish slice rather than the traditional cutlass. (Pirate Captain, not brother.)

Pirates! is one of the films currently showing at Picturehouse Cinema’s special screenings around the country. The others - Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and The Muppets among them – are consciously family-friendly choices designed to give the parents of autistic kids the chance of a trip to the movies without the usual stresses of a loud, crowded cinema.

It’s a initiative close to the hearts of many families, explained Caroline Hattersley, the National Autism Society’s Head of Information, Advice and Advocacy when I dug a bit deeper. “Families have regularly told us that they feel excluded from typical childhood activities because they have a child with autism, and that other siblings are also left out as a result. It’s about giving them the opportunities to have the experiences all children should have.”

With autism, thoses stresses comes in many guises. Depending on its severity, over-stimulation, in the form of loud noise, darkness, bright colours, even the aroma of popcorn, can be tough to cope with. At the Picturehouse screenings the lights are always on, albeit dimly, and the sound is turned down slightly. There’s also chill-out area and tickets are priced at £3 so family members and carers can go without breaking the bank. 3D is a no-no, too, so there are no krakens to bother anyone.

“It’s OK for the children to get up and walk around in the screenings too,” says Hattersley. “No-one’s going to moan at them.” She also stresses the screenings’ importance in giving children with autism the chance to join in school scuttlebutt about Buzz, Gru, E.B., Scrat and co.: “Kids get to see, say, Hop and then talk about it with their friends in the playground. It means they’re able to see the films their schoolfriends are talking about.”

The NAS hopes to expand the venture into the big multiplexes (“we’d love to hear from them”), and is looking at rolling it out in theatres, too. In the meantime, Picturehouse is underwriting the autism-friendly screenings that they launched nationally in 2009. The focus is on animations – probably not of the Waltz With Bashir-kind – that appeal to families, rather than crash-bang actioners. “They’re the films that every child wants to see and every parent wants to take their kids to," says Hattersley. "I don’t know about you but I borrow children so I can go and see them.”

Visit Picturehouse Cinemas for more details of the screenings. Click on The National Autism Society website for information about autism.

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1 olliecd
Posted on Friday April 13, 2012, 19:52
What a great idea. It's great to see that cinemas are not just looking for where the money is coming from, but are looking out for everybody in the community. If only over industries would follow their lead.

2 DazCoops
Posted on Friday April 13, 2012, 20:33
I work at Cineworld in Huntingdon and we have been doing Autism-friendly screenings, with dim lighting and lower sound for a few years now for only £1 a ticket, so its not a new groundbreaking thing but im glad other chains are taking up the idea.

3 Galen Muffley
Posted on Friday April 13, 2012, 23:41
Caroline Hattersly "borrows" children to see child-oriented films?!! Slightly worrying...

Aside from their spokesperson's prediliction for kidnap, a great idea. I work with Autistic adults, (so severely Autistic they won't watch more than 20 minutes of anything- not to say they don't enjoy the 20 minutes), but there are a huge amount of Autistic people of all ages who I'm sure this will benefit.

At the risk of sounding negative though, why not extend these screenings to all forms of mental and physical disability? I know Autism's very high profile, but there are many other conditions that parents/family/carers feel precludes an individual from such an extended social situation, but knowing that cinema staff and management have everyone's best interests in mind may allow cinema visits for many who were previously worried about 'causing a scene'.
All in all: very much a step in a positive direction, bravo to the cinemas who are aware and considerate enough to have these showings, and let's make the cinema experience open to anyone, irrespective of their physical and mental condition.

footnote: one on the guy I work with is a master thief when it comes to sweets- he can unwrap a boiled sweet with barely a whisper of sound. :)

4 O_Goncho
Posted on Saturday April 14, 2012, 01:29
My younger brother is autistic and we've been taking him to Autism-friendly screenings for quite a few years now. Long before they were launched at Picturehouse, in fact.

Obviously it's a great benefit to have a chain willing to put them on, but we've lived at each end of the country and in both cases there has been a local, indie cinema putting them on. This is doubly valuable considering Picturehouse cinemas aren't so common as other chains.

Anyone interested in these screenings should look into their local areas. In my experience, they're more regular than you think.

5 Ross0015
Posted on Saturday April 14, 2012, 19:59
The cinema I project at has been doing this for a few months. It's lovely to see the kids enjoy the film and the parents/carers clearly enjoy it too. It's definitely not a new thing but always worthwhile.

6 AlexCapricious
Posted on Monday April 16, 2012, 12:40
I have a son who is autistic and we were offered the opportunity via his school to participate in one of these screenings at a cinema in Lakeside.

I applaud this kind of initiative. He is 4 years old and has problems with the concept of waiting, turn taking, sitting still, being quiet - all of the things that in normal cinema screenings are frowned upon. Like most children he gets excited but has no control over how he expresses it, and if he finds the experience overwhelming then we can get up and leave the film knowing that we have not paid over £40 for all our family to go and see 15 minutes of a film.

In addition to the lighting and sound concessions there are also no adverts screened for these films which again is a huge plus as I cannot imagine him putting up with it! (He won't watch adverts on TV which is a godsend with CBeebies). If only there were more of this type of thing these children could experience something close to the normality his sister takes for granted.

7 GypsyTrash
Posted on Tuesday April 17, 2012, 12:01
As Ross0015 and O_Goncho have said, the well-known cinema chain I work for have been doing these for a while now, albeit in only about 50 of our cinemas (including the one I work at), and we've always had a policy in place that if people are unable to continue watching a film due to the needs of their child/client we'll refund their money or give them comps to come again at a time that suits them, thereby allowing people to 'test the water' with their kids/clients rather than spend a whole bunch of money on something they might not get to do. It is open to all with disabilities, but the charity that we run it with is Autistic Spectrum-oriented, therefore that's where the name comes from.
From a personal p-o-v it's a fantastic thing to see children and adults (some of whom have been coming to 'regular' screenings for years but only being able to stay about 20 mins at a time) enjoying themselves in an environment that isn't as scary and disorientating as the traditional screens can be. High-fives all round and long may they continue.

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