Sensory-friendly films for the kids

By Mari-Jane Williams
Thursday, February 10, 2011

When your child has sensory processing difficulties, the simplest of things can be a challenge. My son, 6, is sometimes extremely sensitive to sound. Everyday activities such as using a noisy public restroom can overwhelm him. Entertainment presents challenges, too. A crowded museum recently sent him into a state of confusion.

So I was intrigued when I heard about AMC Theatres' sensory-friendly movies, which started in 2008 and are now in 131 theaters nationwide. One Saturday morning a month, several local AMC Theatres screen a family film in an environment that is geared toward people who are sensitive to noises, lights and other stimuli. Gone are the blaring sound and lengthy previews. The lights dim, but not all the way. To allow for special diets, audience members can bring in snacks.

My son and I saw the 2010 live-action film "Yogi Bear" at Potomac Mills last month, and while the story was forgettable, I was impressed with the experience. My son - who actually does fine at regular movies - gave the volume and the Looney Tunes short before the film two thumbs up.

After the movie started, an employee came in to ask if the sound and lights were okay. There were no disapproving looks when a child talked or moved around. Though only 10 others were there that snowy morning, one mother said a sensory showing of "Toy Story 3" had sold out.

The Autism Society in Bethesda worked with AMC to launch this program after Marianne Ross of Howard County requested a modified screening for her daughter, who has autism. More than 300 people attended that showing.

Said Marguerite Colston, vice president of constituent relations at the society: "The biggest boon to us is that we can relax as parents for a little while and enjoy a movie with our families."

If you go

3The next sensory-friendly film, the animated "Gnomeo & Juliet," is Saturday at 10 a.m. Participating AMC Theatres in the area are in Georgetown, Gaithersburg (Rio Cinemas), Largo (Magic Johnson Capital Center), Columbia, Wood- bridge (Potomac Mills) and Tysons Corner. Tickets are $6. .

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