A national partnership between AMC Entertainment Inc. and the Autism Society of America is giving children and adults with autism and other disabilities the opportunity to enjoy popular movies.
The program started locally, and expanded nationally in August. There are sensory-friendly screenings at 67 AMC theaters in 36 markets across the country. In these screenings, the house lights aren’t dimmed and the sound is turned down. AMC also waives its iconic “Silence Is Golden” policy so children can feel free to walk around and dance.
For example, according to the Massachusetts-based MetroWest Daily News, kids with autism recently attended a viewing of “Hannah Montana: The Movie” in Framingham, Mass., where the lights were turned up, and audience members were free to walk around and take bathroom breaks.
Autism, a complex disability that affects about 1.5 million Americans, handicaps a person’s communication and social interaction skills. Autistic children, in particular, can be overly sensitive to the bright lights and loud music in movie theaters and may shout, sing and run around during the performance, much to the consternation of other people in the theater.
The screenings got their start in 2007, when Marianne Ross’ babysitter took Ms. Ross’ two kids — one who is autistic — to see “Hairspray” at a local theater in Maryland. During the show, the child who is autistic began jumping up and down and clapping to the music, and the trio were asked to leave.
Ms. Ross called Dan Harris, general manager of the AMC Columbia Mall 14 in Columbia, Md., to see if a solution could be found. That November, the theater hosted 300 special-needs children and their parents for a screening of “Bee Movie.”
AMC Theaters plans to broaden sensory-friendly screenings in more markets and also is starting a program to hire special-needs teenagers to work in their theaters.