Cary Theater Creating Movie Screening for Children with Autism

Cary, NC – Going to the movie theater is a popular form of entertainment but for people with autism or other sensitivities to unfamiliar environments, it can be difficult. The Cary Theater is working on pilot programs for screenings specifically geared toward these citizens’ sensory needs.

Sensory Film Screening

As Cary’s Specialized Recreation and Inclusion Specialist Judy Newsome explained, for a person (particularly a child) with autism, a movie theater environment can upset their sensory experience.

“Many theaters are much louder than they may be used to and they are dark,” Newsome said. “They’re also more constricted. In a movie theater, the expectation is to sit in a seat for the entire screening. Even if the seating is comfortable, it can be challenging.”

Joy Ennis, the Cary Theater’s supervisor, said for these pilot programs, they made changes to the way movies are usually shown.

“One thing we did is made sure the sound levels are lower and the lights were only halfway off. Also we had mats out so kids could sit on them and not only have to stay in their chairs,” Ennis said.

The Cary Theater already has its “Film Day Fun Day” program for children to watch movies while being able to walk around, talk and play with toys and these screening have that included as well.

“If it’s a movie with a song, it lets the kids get up and dance around,” Newsome said.

Creating a Memorable Experience

The idea came from Cary’s Mariposa School, which works with children with autism and developmental disabilities, approaching the Cary Theater about creating a screening to fit their needs.

“Some of the students may have never had the opportunity to go to a movie theater before,” Ennis said.

Then Newsome was brought in to advise and the pilot screening program was created.

So far, the tests have been well-received and Newsome said families have said it let them enjoy a movie together when they might not have before.

“They had the opportunity to enjoy it together and not worry about disturbing others or having to worry about some loud scene coming up that would upset the child,” Newsome said.

The program is still in a pilot phase but Ennis said they are gathering feedback and hope to launch this program for the public this Summer.

“We want to open it to a wide spectrum of students and we don’t want to turn anyone away,” Ennis said. “It’s for anyone who feels they don’t want the same theater experience.”


Story by Michael Papich. Photos by Hal Goodtree and Michael Papich.

Content sponsored in part by the Cary Chamber of Commerce annual membership drive.