Yelm Cinemas at Prairie Park has a list of children’s movies throughout the year that will feature sensory-friendly showtimes for people on the autism spectrum.
“A sensory show is pretty easy,” said Noah Aden, general manager of the theater. “We just turn the lights up in the theater and turn the sound down and that allows kids and people of all ages who have disabilities to get up and walk around the auditorium if they want to and kind of shout and be happy and laugh and not afraid to be loud and disturb other guests.”
The first of these showings were “Toy Story 4” on Saturday, June 29, at 201 Prairie Park St. SE in Yelm.
Other films that will include a sensory-friendly showtime this year include “The Lion King,” “Angry Birds 2,” “Abominable” and “Frozen 2.” Online purchasing for these films will be available, Aden said.
The theater has been known to utilize sensory-friendly showings for private groups in the past, but it is now moving toward offering them to everybody without the need of a special arrangement, Aden said.
The idea specifically came about when a potential customer reached out to the theater via Facebook and inquired about a showing for a young one in their life. The potential customer explained that they had just moved to the area and their old movie theater did this type of showing all the time. Aden said that the people at Yelm Cinemas realized that making sensory-friendly showings more available to the public was a no-brainer.
The sensory friendly showings are important because they give the parents and the kids a place to experience the immersive setting of a movie theater without feeling excluded by anyone.
“A lot of the calls and Facebook messages that we get is: ‘This is the first time I’m bringing my kid to a movie theater because we don’t want to disturb other guests with kids making happy sounds and having a good time,’” Aden said, “The sensory-friendly showings give an opportunity for parents and kids to enjoy a movie together, when maybe normally they wouldn’t be able to have that luxury that a lot of us take for granted.”
While the showings are mostly for kids on the autism spectrum, they’re open to anybody who wants to come.
“I’m sure there will be plenty of seats,” Aden said. “Our capacity is 440 seats, so we’ll add more theaters if it does get really busy.”
He said that Yelm Cinemas has a duty to provide movies for all people because it is the only theater in the immediate area.
“We have a lot of folks on the autism spectrum in the community,” he said. “Because we are the theater here, they don’t have to drive out and seek out these events elsewhere.”
Even though the process of putting on a sensory-friendly showing is relatively simple, sometimes it’s the simplest acts that make all the difference, Aden said.
In addition, he said he’s been touched by the response he’s been seeing in the community about these showings.
“It’s just very cool to see parents get excited about it…” Aden said. “It’s important for everybody to enjoy the movie theater. It’s not just one group of people. It’s for everybody and that will hopefully give the opportunity for everybody to come and see it who normally can’t.”