Children with special needs often have little chance to attend movies with their families due to societal “laws” that exist in a movie theater.
Thanks to the Wapa Theater and the volunteer work of Jennifer Horman, who has a special needs child, children in the area are finally getting that chance.
“We try to have it every few months,” Horman said. “It’s usually based on whatever is showing and what would be appropriate.”
Most of the special needs children cannot ordinarily attend the movies with their families due to sensory overload. Kids often randomly shout out, or sometimes they can’t sit for a full 90 minutes or 2-hour movie.
Disorders of children attending often include autism, sensory processing disorders, or other developmental or physical disabilities. Family and friends attend the movie along with the children. This past Saturday, the theater showed the new Disney movie, “Wreck-It Ralph.” The theater had its first sensory friendly movie in December last year and have now held five such movie dates.
Before the Wapa Theater started hosting the movies, the closest people could travel was to Bluffton or Dayton. Horman said approximately two or three months before a movie is coming out that will work well as a sensory friendly movie, theater manager Becky Jordan will contact Horman and let her know.
Flyers are prepared and given to children at school or to group homes in the area alerting them of the showing.
“I have been surprised at how far we have reached,” Horman said.
At a sensory free movie, the lights are only dimmed slightly. Sound levels are turned down and special snacks and beverages are allowed to be brought along for special dietary needs. The silence is golden policy is also suspended.
Aaron Lusk, a special education teacher at Wapakoneta through the Auglaize County Educational Service Center, said the movies are a perfect opportunity for special needs children to do something with their family.
“These kids can never go to the movies with their families due to it being dark or having to stay quiet,” Lusk said. “Kids with autism or other disabilities can’t be in those situations. This gives the kids a chance to go without all the social rules.”
Marcella Barnett, of Wapakoneta, brought her special needs grandson, Joey, and several other of her grandchildren for a morning out.
“We got the flyer at school and decided to make it a grandkids’ day out,” Barnett said. “I think it helps Joey a lot. He realizes there are other kids just like him.”
Angela and Matt Clements have attended the sensory friendly movie a few times and plan to do attend more in the future. Aa special wheelchair box is located at a the theater where they can sit with their son, Owen.
“There is a lot of vocalizations with kids with developmental disabilities,” Angela said. “Its more accepted here and we can feel at ease.”