Families of kids with autism celebrate Cineplex's 'sensory friendly' movies

Cineplex Entertainment is launching a special screening program for people with autism spectrum disorder and their families.

Cineplex Entertainment launches special screenings for people with autism and their families

Bonita Harman's 11-year-old son Blake is on the autism spectrum. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC News)

Cineplex Entertainment is launching a special screening program for people with autism spectrum disorder and their families with the help of Autism Speaks Canada.

The movie theatre company's Sensory Friendly Screenings will include 2D projection, increased auditorium lighting, lower volume, and smaller crowds.

On Saturday, select Cineplex theatres, including the Cineplex Odeon at Saskatoon's Centre Mall, will open early for The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.

"Our goal is to make movie-going accessible to as many Canadians as possible," said Pat Marshall of Cineplex Entertainment in a news release. "This partnership with Autism Speaks Canada provides an opportunity to see the latest family movies in a comfortable environment, at a reduced price."

That price is $2,99 at the Saskatoon theatre.

Parents' perspective

For parents like Bonita Harman, this program is thrilling. Her 11-year-old son, Blake, hasn't been able to see a movie in theatres in years.

He is non-verbal and is extremely affected by autism. Going to the movies is like "sensory overload," Harman said.

"There's just no way," she said. "He'll start to get loud if it's too uncomfortable for him, and so, I mean, that's distracting for other people, so it doesn't work very well."

Harman intends to take her son to the movies on Saturday.

"It is really hard to go out, and there's limited things you can do sometimes. So the more opportunities like this, I'll totally take advantage of them, that's great," she said."

Shannon Hill has a 13-year-old son named Colby who is affected by moderate autism. She said she has given up taking him to movies because he often wants to leave five minutes into the film.

Hill thinks the special screenings will mean she won't feel judged by people in the theatre if her son is disruptive.

"If you're in a room full of people who have kids with autism, they're not going to judge you if you get up with your kid and go out for a few minutes and then maybe come back or something like that. Or if your kid starts yelling or clapping, nobody's going to care about that kind of stuff," she said.

Hill said there are a lot of expectations in places like movie theatres, and sometimes her son can't meet them.

"We don't take our kids anywhere after a certain time, because if you can't physically control them sometimes, it's really hard to maintain that social behaviour that people expect," Hill said.

Harman and Hill hope other businesses will take steps to be more inclusive of people with autism.

"We need the supports like that, for sure," Harman said.

Sensory Friendly Screenings will run on select Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. Titles will be announced on the Cineplex website up to two weeks in advance.


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