Sensory-Friendly Theaters: something good from Hollywood…


We took our seven-year-old daughter to the theater for the very first time. She did very well and sat through the entire movie! She enjoyed the popcorn and the fruit snacks.

It was 10:00 am on a Saturday morning. 10:00am? Weird time for a movie. But Beauty and the Beast is a huge hit and odd movie-times are not unusual for a hit (see my “review” – more in the way of thoughts on the movie – here). As we walked down the hallway of the multiplex to Theater 1 I noticed a sign saying this was a Sensory-Friendly showing.

A what?

Here is an article from June of 2016 from The Mighty:

Loud noises, bright lights and foreign smells can make going to the movie theater or seeing a live performance an overwhelming experience for those with autism spectrum disorder. To make showings more inclusive, an increasing number of theaters across the country are now offering “sensory-sensitive” screenings of movies and performances for people living with autism.

“Many people on the autism spectrum experience intense anxiety and heightened sensory sensitivity,” Lori McIlwain, Co-founder & Board Chair of the National Autism Association told The Mighty. ”By making a few simple adjustments, movie theaters can give individuals on the spectrum the opportunity to enjoy a film without judgment or fear.”

According to the Autism Society, approximately 3.5 million Americans live on the spectrum – a huge market for the cinema arts world to tap into. Sensory-sensitive screenings began in 2007, with AMC Entertainment, the second largest cinema chain in America.

Since 2007, AMC has expanded their program to include 175 cinemas in 33 states, about half of their cinemas. Other cinema groups are starting to broaden their offerings as well. The largest cinema chain, Regal Entertainment Group, offers screenings at about 6 percent of their cinemas, 36 out of 565. Smaller chains, like NCG Cinemas, offer sensory-sensitive showings at all 20 of their locations.

Shows billed as sensory-sensitive often include accommodations such as lowered volume and raised lighting. Other theaters skip the previews and make accommodations for special dietary needs. Allowing families to bring their own food is another way theaters can make themselves more accessible, McIlwain said.

Of the cinemas that have sensory-sensitive offerings, most films are geared towards children and families – limiting showings to one children’s movie playing one morning a month. Others offer more frequent showings once a week or several times a month, as well as discounted tickets. AMC is one of the only theater groups to offer screenings for adolescents and adults with autism, occasionally playing movies rated PG-13 and R.

“It’s important to allow individuals with autism to be in a comfortable, low-stress environment where they can simply be themselves,” she said. These screenings all act as a judgment-free zone where patrons are allowed to get up, make noise and act in ways that may otherwise be regarded as disruptive. Because of their relaxed environment, sensory-sensitive screenings can benefit more than just those with autism. Relaxed screenings can also benefit those with learning disabilities, movement disorders, young children and their families, as well as those with neurological conditions like Tourette syndrome.

Movie theaters aren’t the only venues increasing their reach. Playhouses and other performing arts venues are also looking for ways to become more inclusive. Earlier this month, playhouses in New York and California hosted relaxed performances of “Backstage in Biscuitland,” a show about life with Tourette’s. In December, the California Ballet will become the first West Coast dance company to offer a sensory-sensitive production of “The Nutcracker.”

Inclusivity is key, McIlwain said. “We’re happy to see movie theaters promoting inclusivity and hope more will follow suit.”

Among the theater chains with Sensory Friendly shows include Regal Cinemas and Marcus Theaters.


Our local chain is AMC.  Their website describes Sensory Friendly as:

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.

Good for them! I am all for Sensory-Friendly showings!

Although it does bring in families that would otherwise not buy movie tickets, and that is their ultimate bottom line; when corporate whores act less like corporate whores – even if only on the surface – we should all encourage it.

The lights were not dimmed very much – kind of like when you first walk in before everything starts – but not as bright as when the movie was over and we finally leave (after sitting through 20 minutes of credits to see Samuel L. Jackson ask Belle to join the Avengers).

The sound is turned down. This is never a bad thing. Even so, in B&B the constant slamming of castle doors thunders through the theater. I can understand how that can help the special-needs movie-goer.

My favorite? At 10:00 the movie started. No previews, no Fanta ads, no house ads to keep quiet and turn off the cell phones and go eat something. No music was piped in before the show started.

And it’s not just for children’s movies – at least at AMC. They plan on Sensory Friendly shows for Fate of the Furious for example. Well, that kind of reminds me of my Facebook post from March 16 of 2013:  “One ticket to see The Hobbit, please.” “For an adult or a child?” “That depends on your opinion of people who goes to see movies like The Hobbit…”

I think it’s wonderful and I applaud AMC and the other chains for doing this kind of thing.

Of course, if they were truly concerned about special needs children and their families during these special showings they would also have lowered their concession prices …

… corporate whore baby steps …


Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

About the author:

Michael is the author of Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped


The cover of Abby’s Road

Abby’s Road leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.

Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.

WINNER: 2015 Reader’s Favorite Book Award Finalist, Non-Fiction Humor

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2015 New York Book Festival!

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival!

Abby’s Road is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at Smashwords.



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