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Connie Erbert: Special movie showing was a gift to families

  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, at 5:08 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, at 9:35 a.m.

On Saturday, Warren Theatres reached out to our community in a tremendous way. The west-side Warren provided a sensory-friendly showing of the movie “Wreck-It Ralph,” so as to provide an opportunity for families of individuals with autism or sensory needs to access a typical family leisure activity.

The impact of this opportunity was huge.

Those of us who work with these exceptional families didn’t know what to expect. How many families would take advantage of such a unique opportunity?

As I drove up 21st Street toward the theater, I was stunned to see a parking lot filling a good half-hour before the movie started. As I entered the building, I was met with controlled excitement by a large crowd of families and children excited to be there.

Many of these families have never had the opportunity to take their children out to the movies because of their children’s unique needs. For some, movies are too loud. For others, the sights, sounds, smells and activity are just too overwhelming. Others want to avoid the stares of people when their child becomes overwhelmed and expresses that with loud noises, dropping to the floor or running away.

This was not the case Saturday. Families were delighted to have the opportunity to connect with other families, enjoy a family activity, and do so without the typical worries that accompany them to many community settings.

The response was so overwhelming that the families would not all fit into one theater. But management was prepared, and opened another theater.

If all this wasn’t impressive enough, as we entered the theater there were adults at the back of the seating area ready to accommodate families that might need an extra hand. If a child needed to take a walk in the hallway and then return to the movie, these adults were ready to assist.

Right before the movie started, the manager entered the theater to welcome the families and invite them to let him know if they needed anything. With the sound and lighting adjusted, the movie started.

Not only was the movie enjoyable, but the entire experience was just wonderful. I saw moviegoers high-fiving, shaking hands and hugging afterward because this meant so much to them. Successfully accessing a community family activity meant the world to each and every one.

It is difficult to convey what it means to a family to have such an opportunity. Whether it is going to the grocery store, the mall, restaurants, the zoo or the movies, many families have literally given up on many social outings that include their child with autism, because it is just too much.

Though accommodations and support can be provided for individuals with autism when accessing a public place, it was the collaboration shown by Warren Theatres that was such a gift to so many families and ensured a much more successful experience.

Owner Bill Warren deserves a huge “thank you” for opening up another door to the Wichita community that can be difficult for some families to enter. Thanks also to the theater staff for welcoming the autism community and other individuals with special needs.

Everyone is already planning for the next movie.

Connie Erbert is director of CARE (community of autism resources and education) and autism outreach at Heartspring in Wichita.

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