‘Sensory friendly’ movie screening big success, families, theater officials say

11/22/2012 1:47 PM

08/05/2014 10:27 PM

So many families showed up for a special showing of “Wreck-It Ralph” on Saturday, Warren Theatre officials had to open a second auditorium.

Then they opened a third.

The city’s first “sensory friendly” movie screening for children with autism or other special needs attracted about 450 people, organizers said. It was such a success, theater officials plan to continue the concept with another family show in December.

“We did better than expected,” said Dan Gray, general manager of Warren Theatres.

“I had a couple different people come up to me and tell me it had been years since they’d been able to go to a movie as a family.”

For children with certain forms of autism or sensory disorders, theaters can be scary. The dark environment and ear-splitting audio, combined with policies that require patrons to stay seated and quiet, can make movie outings impossible for them and their families.

During the sensory friendly screening, Warren officials turned the theater house lights up a little more than usual and turned the sound down, Gray said. Movies were shown in auditoriums with sloped aisles rather than stairs, so youngsters could move around, talk, dance or sing.

Ashlee and Jared Wendel attended with their two sons — Jackson, 3, and Jameson, 2 — who have autism.

“Sometimes parents of children with disabilities kind of feel left out of things, so this was such a great thing for us,” Ashlee Wendel said. “We didn’t have to feel like we were a burden to people with typical children who are trying to watch the show.”

Bob Nooe, a counselor at Greiffenstein Alternative Elementary in Wichita, worked with Warren officials on the concept. He said the first hour of the movie was “fairly calm” but then some children grew restless.

“Several parents had told me that their child could not last any longer than an hour in a movie,” Nooe said. “It was exciting to see that no one felt that they had to leave. Families were having fun.”

Gray said the west Warren Theatre has scheduled another sensory friendly movie, “Rise of the Guardians,” for Dec. 15.

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