A trip to the cinema is one of life’s simple pleasures but until recently some Northern Ireland families were denied the fun of watching a movie on the big screen.
For people on the autism spectrum a visit to a movie theatre hasn’t been an option but now cinemas across Northern Ireland are offering autism-friendly screenings.
During the screenings low lights are left on in the auditorium and the volume of the soundtrack is reduced, as some people with autism are sensitive to sounds and light.
People are also allowed to move around, make noise or take a break during the film.
The Movie House Cityside is the latest cinema providing this facility and will have its first autism-friendly screening this Saturday at 11.30am, when the U-rated comedy Parental Guidance, starring Bette Midler and Billy Crystal, is shown.
It tells the story of grandparents looking after their grandchildren while their parents are out of town.
Autism-friendly screenings are open to everyone, but geared toward people on the autism spectrum and their families, friends and carers.
The cinema is often not a place that is easily accessible for families affected by autism, so these screenings aim to make them feel welcome, comfortable and relaxed in an environment that can otherwise seem traumatic — among other families experiencing similar issues.
Movie House managing director Michael McAdam said: “We were approached by local families who asked if we would trial this in the New Year.
“We were happy to work with them and to see if there is demand from the public for these screenings. It would be great to see families coming out and enjoying a movie together.”
Odyssey, Odeon and Omniplex are among the other cinemas |in Northern Ireland that are also offering autism-friendly screenings.
Arlene Cassidy, Autism NI’s chief executive said: “Autism-friendly screenings are a great way to support those with autism and also their families.
“Quite often outings to the cinema would be difficult for so many people with autism due to sensory issues in relation to the noise and lighting of certain films.
“Therefore it is great that so many cinemas throughout Northern Ireland are taking the initiative and offering opportunities for the autism community to attend these screenings with their family in a comfortable environment.”
Autism affects the social and communication centre of the brain. It affects how an individual relates to people, situations and their environment. The term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is used because autism varies from person to person. Around 25% of people with ASD will have an accompanying learning disability. Some people with ASD will have average or above average intelligence; they are likely to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
‘Before, the cinema was never an option for our son’
Paul and Paula McClinton from Lisburn enjoy taking their eight-year-old son Thomas to autism-friendly movie screenings.
Paula said: “Being able to go to the cinema has opened our son up to being active in the community.
“It’s great to hear Movie House Cityside is now offering autism-friendly screenings.
“We first took Thomas to an autism-friendly screening at the Odeon, in Victoria Square, Belfast, in 2011.
“Before they (autism-friendly screenings) were introduced, going to the cinema was just not an option, due to it being too dark and loud.
“Also, trailers were a problem, as his attention is limited and he is not good at waiting.
“Thomas also has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) so it’s great that he can move around freely during autism-friendly screenings.
“There is very little on offer for children with autism, which is where the Autism NI charity is so good.
“They organise summer schemes and monthly fun days and a Christmas party.
“Thomas also goes swimming, but I would love him to be able to access the arts more.
“He couldn’t go to something like the pantomime, as it has an interval and he would think the show is over.
“It would be good if more events could be arranged to accommodate children on the autism spectrum.”