For some people with autism, the cinema is a no-go area. The sensory differences often associated with the condition mean that the cinema, with its darkness, loud sound effects and such like, is too difficult an ordeal to contemplate. Until now, that is.
Last week, non-for-profit autism and learning disability support provider Dimensions and cinema chain ODEON teamed up to put on special autism-friendly screenings of the new Jim Carrey film ‘Mr Popper’s Penguins’ as part of the Autism Friendly Films initiative.
Some 3,000 people turned up to the 40 cinemas across the country that took part in the initiative. With an average of 75 people going to each screening – and some cinemas selling out – it shows how many people with autism want to go to when the opportunity is there. Given that there are about 588,000 people in the UK with an autism spectrum condition, according to the National Autistic Society, the potential market is vast.
I’m sure this hasn’t been lost on ODEON, who will be seeing another revenue stream opening up before them. Indeed, the Autism Friendly Films project has demonstrated that for cinema viewings to be accessible to people with autism requires only minor changes from the norm, such as using low lighting and reducing the sound effects – which are not difficult to do. But it ensured that people with sensory differences could watch in comfort, without feeling uneasy because of, for instance, the loud sound effects. Hopefully, the success of this initiative will lead to autism-friendly film screenings becoming a fixture of ODEON’s schedules and be rolled out to all of its 113 cinemas in the UK and Ireland.
It would be great to see other chains follow ODEON’s lead too. But if this initial success is replicated – I can see no reason why it shouldn’t be – then I am sure they will. This project again demonstrates that there is some great work going on that can make a real difference to the quality of life for people with autism or other learning disabilities.