Jennifer, a reader from Burlington, Washington emailed to tell me that the movie theater in her town had started to offer “sensory friendly” showings of popular movies to the community.
Wondering what a sensory friendly film was all about, Jennifer inquired at the box office and was told that the special screenings are geared toward the needs of autistic children. The lights are kept on during the film, the sound is turned down and the kids are free to run around and do whatever they like.
Jennifer had a mixed reaction about the program just like I did. On the one hand, what a wonderful idea for families struggling with an autistic or special needs child so that they can enjoy time out at the movies together in a comfortable environment.
On the other hand, what does this say about the number of children that are autistic today?
This movie theater’s sensory friendly program is not an isolated case. AMC Theaters has a page on its website devoted to sensory friendly films and describes the initiative as a monthly program offered nationwide for families affected by autism:
The program provides a special opportunity for families to enjoy their favorite films in a safe and accepting environment. The auditoriums dedicated to the program have their lights up, the sound turned down and audience members are invited to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing!
The idea for the program began with a request from a parent with an autistic child for a special screening at AMC Columbia Mall 14 in Columbia, MD. More than 300 children and parents attended the first screening.
We are thrilled to now offer the program at many locations nationwide — please see below for a complete list of participating theatres. As a leading theatrical exhibition company, we are so proud to be making a difference in the estimated 1.5 million Americans living with an autism spectrum disorder by offering families a chance to see a movie together — often for the very first time.
One thing is certain – AMC would not be offering sensory friendly screenings of popular films unless it was financially viable. In other words, if it doesn’t fill seats, it won’t fly.
Jennifer told me that she used to work at a movie theater and knows how slim the margins can be. Yet, upon inquiring with the manager of the movie theater, she was told that the program was indeed filling plenty of seats and was very financially successful with many showings selling out!
The Age of Autism
It’s not news that the rate of autism continues to skyrocket. Using data from the website vacinfo.org, I constructed the graph to the right which visually depicts the number of school age children in the United States with autism and how it has grown since 1994.
On November 29, 2012, the United States Congress held a riveting hearing on the Federal response to the astronomical and still rising rate of autism in today’s generation of children.
During these hearings, one Utah congressman reported that the autism rate is 1 in 47 in his state.
In New Jersey, the rate of autism is a shocking 1 in 26!
With so many children now on the autistic spectrum with more added each and every day, one has to wonder what other aspects of community life will be altered in the coming years to accommodate their special needs far and beyond sensory friendly films.
What Will Happen When These Children Grow Up?
My big question has always been, “What will happen when these autistic kids grow up in the coming decades and their parents become too old to take care of them anymore?”
My guess is that there will be a new type of extended care facility – Autism Homes similar to the Nursing Homes of today except there won’t be many old people around anymore due to declining life expectancy with the passing of the pre-WWII generation, the last generation raised without processed foods. Really old people will become a rarer sight rather than common like it is today.
As a result, these abandoned nursing homes will instead become filled with autistic and other special needs adults cared for by a professional staff because there isn’t anyone able to care for them properly at home anymore.
Sobering thought isn’t it?
There are certainly many more lifestyle modifications and adjustments to be made in communities across America as an increasing tidal wave of autistic children grow up and take their place in society that will require enormous community financial resources.
The advent of sensory friendly films across the nation is the tip of the iceberg.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist