Friday, April 17, 2009

A showing that suits kids with autism in Chicago

By Julie Deardorff | Chicago Tribune reporter

Movie theaters can be frightening—even painful—places for children with autism and sensory disorders. They're loud, dark and often crowded; a bad combination when you perceive everything as bigger, brighter and louder.

But Saturday's showing of "Hannah Montana The Movie" at several Chicago area theaters will be different. The lights will slightly be turned up, the sound lowered and the "silence is golden" policy will be cast aside, thanks to a partnership between theater companies and autism-related organizations.

"The transition [when a movie starts] is scary enough to send your kid running out of the show and straight into the street," said Dena Seidenfuss of the Elmhurst-based Special Education Resources Group, which has partnered with Classic Cinemas for a showing at the York Theater.

During these "sensory-friendly" films, standing, shouting, singing, walking and moving is encouraged. Most autistic kids have an extreme need for movement, which makes it hard for them to sit for the full length of a movie. "Many also have impulse-control issues and problems knowing what's socially appropriate, so they might shout out in excitement or express themselves in unusual ways," said Christi O'Neal of Georgia, whose 7-year-old son Eric has autism and a sensory integration disorder.

But movies can be enjoyable if the setting is right. "Unlike birthday parties, movies don't have as much demand for social interaction and not quite as much unpredictability," said O'Neal. "Having seen the current 'hot' film can be really helpful to them in a social setting so they have something in common to talk about with the neurotypical kids."

In addition to the Classic Cinemas showing, AMC Entertainment also hosting "Sensory Friendly Films" at three Chicago-area theaters. AMC has also partnered with the Autism Society of America to help create jobs for those on the autism spectrum.

All shows are on Saturday.

•York Theater, 150 N. York St., Elmhurst, 9:30 a.m.

•AMC Northbrook Court 14, 1525 Lake Cook Rd., Northbrook, 10 a.m.

•AMC South Barrington, 175 Studio Drive, South Barrington, 10 a.m.

•AMC Cantera, 28250 Diehl Rd., Warrenville, 10 a.m.


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