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An independently-owned movie theater that serves a wide radius of very rural landscape has decided to do something special for children with Autism and other disabilities. KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson has this report from West Plains.
[Sound: puzzle pieces, humming]
Four-year-old Jack Sander is picking up puzzle pieces in his living room. For a four-year-old, he’s got it pretty good: loving parents, a beautiful home on a golf course, a little brother, and some pretty cool toys. But there’s one thing he’s never been able to do.
“Jack has never been able to even try to go to the movies before,” says Dawn Sander, his mother.
“He’s so sensory-seeking—he can’t sit still now—that there’s no way he could go to an hour-and-a-half movie, where the lights are off, and you sit still, and you don’t talk, with the noise very loud,” Sander said.
Jack has developmental delay, issues with his vision, and severe speech delay. He also has sensory processing disorder.
“He is over-stimulated and under-stimulated by different things that a typical child might just find normal—Jack just can’t handle it,” Sander said.
When the animated film Winnie-the-Pooh came to the local theater, Jack’s friends all went to see it. Dawn considered going, but knew it was too much of a gamble.
That’s why she was moved to tears when she went to the facebook page of the local theater, The Glass Sword Cinema, and learned that it’s offering a sensory-friendly movie just for kids like Jack.
“For a sensory-friendly show, what we do is, we leave the lights on in the theater,” says Clint Corman, technical manager at the theater.
“We turn the sound down, so it’s not quite so loud. And the audience is free to express themselves however they want. They can sing along. They can clap. They can dance. There’s not going to be any judgment from people,” Corman said.
Corman said his co-worker has a degree in education, and has worked with special needs kids. When that co-worker asked whether the theater could pull this off, owners Gary and Regina York said, “You bet we can.” Again, Clint Corman.
“So, we immediately put it up on facebook. It was late at night, and I just put it up there and went to sleep," he said.
The next day, he woke up to hundreds of “likes” and a long stream of comments…comments like, “This is amazing,” or “I can’t believe that we’re doing this in our local town,” or “I’m so excited,” or “We can’t wait for this to happen.”
“It was all positive,” Corman said.
So, the Glass Sword Cinema, which has six screens, is preparing to open its doors at a special time, and load the animated film Monsters University in all of its theaters.
KSMU contacted several theaters in Springfield to ask about sensory-friendly showings there, but we were unable to find one that offered the service: Campbell 16, Springfield 11, and Regal 14 (formerly Hollywood Theaters) all confirmed that they don’t offer sensory-friendly shows at this time.
S.C.A.N., Inc. is a not-for-profit group in southwest Missouri that supports children with special needs. Organizer Terry Faust says the group tries to organize four sensory-friendly movie showings a year in Lebanon, the Nixa-Ozark area, and Waynesville. These take place at the B & B Theatres in those communities, Faust says, and you can keep abreast of when those movies will be by checking S.C.A.N.’s website: www.scan4kids.com.
Faust says the sensory-friendly movie in Lebanon, which started about a year ago, is very popular.
“We use co-sponsors, like Ozark Brewery in Ozark, Missouri. They pitch in on the cost, and this allows us to go at a discounted price of $3.50 at the movie theater. Because, for some parents, even going to the movies is a difficult expense,” Faust said.
The next sensory-friendly movie showing in this area is July 13, Faust said, at the B&B Ozark-Nixa 12 Theater. That’s located at 620 N. 25th Street in Ozark.
A spokeswoman from Wehrenberg Theaters told us that if enough parents asked at the Campbell 16 theater in Springfield, they might consider it.
But at the Glass Sword in West Plains, the owners didn’t take a market sample before making their decision...they just did it. In doing so, it’s kind of become “The little theater that could.”
The sensory-friendly Monsters University in 2D will show at the Glass Sword Cinema in West Plains at 10 am on Saturday, June 29.
[Sound: Sander and her son talking]
Dawn Sander says she and other parents of children with disabilities crave normalcy—for themselves, and for their children. She and her son, Jack, are planning to get a taste of that normalcy when they go on their first “Mommy-son” date to the movies. She says there’s no guarantee Jack will even make it through this movie, but at least he’s now able to try.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Davidson.