Theatre’s consideration delights family

Big crowds, loud volumes and long lineups are all part of the moviegoing experience.

But those factors don’t appeal to everyone – especially those with autism.

Now one Flin Flon family is over the moon with a major theatre chain offering screenings catered to those with the disorder.

“I’m so excited that Josh gets to go and do something that is considered ‘normal’ and not have to worry about his behaviours,” said Lori Neault, referring to her autistic son. “I’m very excited. It’s a great announcement. It’s something we, as his parents, watch for stuff like this all the time because it gives us the chance to do something as a whole family.”

Cineplex Entertainment announced this week that select theatre locations across Canada, including Saskatoon, will feature autism-friendly screenings beginning tomorrow.

Cineplex’s Sensory Friendly Screenings will include smaller crowds, lower volumes, more auditorium lighting and 2D projection.

Josh, 10, was diagnosed with autism last year. He and many children and adults on the autism spectrum disorder find it difficult to be in settings like movie theatres, where there are loud noises and big crowds, among other sensory-stimulating factors.

The Neaults already enjoy family movie nights, but typically from the comfort of their home.

“We choose to either go to the drive-in, where we’re in our own vehicle and we can control the environment, or we’ll wait for [a movie] to come out on DVD and watch it at home,” said Lori.

Cineplex’s Sensory Friendly Screenings will mean a better atmosphere for Josh and others with autism.

“It’s 2D, so it’s a flatter version and it tends to not be so bright and vibrant as opposed to the 3D movies where you can see some shadowing,” said Lori. “The 3D movies look more realistic, but for kids with sensory issues it’s really hard for them to process that type of image.”

In addition to other modifications, the Cineplex screenings will allow families to bring their own snacks, as dietary concerns are often linked to autism.

“Most of the issues with the movies and autistic kids is their sensory issues,” said Lori. “Volume really affects Josh and loud noises tend to agitate him. If it’s really loud he will start to get over-stimulated and then he can’t sit still. But that’s okay if he can’t sit still at an autistic showing, because there are going to be other kids doing the exact same thing. If something excites him, he’ll want to jump up.”

Lori said the family has tried to watch movies at theatres in the past, but they have never been able to stay for the full film.

“In a normal theatre showing, there are people behind you that are going to say, ‘Sit your kid down,’” she said, “but there could be six other kids jumping up and down, or flapping their arms or growling [at a Sensory Friendly Screening].”

Diagnosed

Though Josh was diagnosed with autism last year, Lori said she and husband Kevin knew from the time he was six weeks old that there was something wrong.

Josh was also born with an eye defect that led doctors to believe that genetics may have played a role in his development.

As Lori and Kevin have learned about autism, their other son, Jaxsen, 7, continues to grasp more of the concept each year.

“We were talking about [the Sensory Friendly Screening] and Jaxsen said, ‘But Mom, what if Joshie growls?’” said Lori. “He was concerned. He’s seen in the past where Josh’s autistic behaviours have caused not problems, but people to notice. I wouldn’t say Jaxsen is uncomfortable with that, but he’s aware. I told him, ‘That’s the whole point. There’s going to be other kids just like Josh, so if Josh has to get up and clap or if he growls, it’s okay because there is going to be other kids just like Josh there.’”

Lori held back tears as she repeated her youngest son’s response.

“His words were, ‘That’s so cool, Mom, that he can do things with other kids just like him,’” she said. “He gets it. He really does.”

In the next few months, the Neault family hopes to relocate from Flin Flon to Saskatchewan for a career move.

The move will put the family closer to Saskatoon with the opportunity to participate in regular Sensory Friendly Screenings.

The special screenings start tomorrow with a showing of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. Moviegoers will be able to catch the film in Saskatoon as well as various cities in BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

The autistic-friendly screenings originated in the US in 2007, but a few have been held in Canada since then. Toronto held a screening in 2011, Calgary in 2013 and Regina in 2014.

This week’s announcement of the Sensory Friendly Screenings was a big moment in the Neault household, and Josh was as excited as anyone.

“His reaction was, ‘Like, we can go to a theatre?’” Lori said with a laugh.

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