For most children with autism, trips to the local movie theater are difficult because of sensitivity to light and sound and anxiety in large social situations. This past Saturday, several MU students organized a sensory screening for children with autism.
The viewing of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," which took place Saturday at Hollywood Theaters, used lower volume, a moderated temperature and kept the theatre lights on. All these precautions were taken to accommodate the hypersensitive senses associated with the disorder.
Students Kelly Watkins, Brittany Hanson, Sarah White and Lauren Chronister, who are all senior occupational therapy majors, said they were inspired to do the screening after completing a project dealing with autism over the summer.
This is the second screening the group has done, and more than 100 people attended both screenings. The children were allowed to bring their own snacks, blankets, pillows and toys.
"We're all interested in pediatrics and children so we looked up the sensory screening and decided to do it," Hanson said. "And we found out that Columbia has a large autistic community."
White said reserving the theater played a large role in the event's success.
"We had the theater reserved just for our program this morning,” White said. “If there were other people here, it would have been scary for them. We also picked the largest room to show the movie so the kids could bring blankets an toys and still have room."
Paula Carter, parent of Madeline Carter, said she was more than elated about the program.
"Other movies are vivid and intense, but these screenings are pastel, scaled down and less intimidating," she said. "We've been to both shows and we're definitely coming back. We read the book and prepared for all the wild, silly stuff in the movie. Maddie loves it."
Carter said the atmosphere of the event was welcoming to those with autism.
"The audience is very tolerant because we all understand each other," she said. "It makes me proud to live in Columbia."
As far as continuing the program, theater manager Joe McKie said he plans to be a part of it every month.
"The benefits are profound," he said. "We hope to do it on a regular monthly basis. The big factor is getting the word out."
So far, the program has attracted a large audience, and the group of students said they have no intention to stop the program.
"We had people all the way from Green Valley, Kansas," Hanson said. "We want people to know that these screenings are open to everyone. It's a great experience and lots of fun."
The students said they have a panel of children with autism reviewing commercials for the next family film scheduled for release in the next two weeks, "Where the Wild Things Are."
"We want to make sure it's not too scary," Hanson said.