For 3-year-old Jackson Ksyniak, going to the movies is not enjoyable and relaxing. In fact, it’s sensory overload.
Ksyniak, an Old Town resident, has autism and sensory integration disorder, which makes it difficult for him to enjoy the movie in the same way that his three other siblings do.
“Before Jack we loved going to the movies as a family,” said Jackson’s mother, Michelle. The family tried twice, but the dark of the theater frightened him, and the loud sound caused him distress. “We do not go to the movies as a family now.”
To benefit Jackson and his family and other families like them, a “gentle viewing” of the new movie “Rise of the Guardians” will be held at Spotlight Cinemas in Orono at 2:40 p.m., Dec. 12. This viewing is specially designed to allow people with autism and sensory disorders and their families to have the experience of enjoying a movie while not disturbing others. Admission for this special showing is waived. Donations for the Autism Society of Maine will be accepted.
Cathy Dionne, the ASM director, said the experience of a gentle viewing, also called a “sensory-friendly” viewing, is ideal for families like the Ksyniaks. “Lots of families say that when they go to these movies, they leave saying that this ‘was the first time my family has gone to the movies together.’” Dionne said.
According to Dionne, Penobscot County has the third highest incidence of autism in the state.
“As a parent who has a child that lives with autism, I feel that gentle viewings are not offered enough,” Ksyniak said. “Seeing how Jack really does love movies and TV, I think he really would enjoy going to the movies if it was designed around his tolerances. I figured if I had these feelings and struggles, I know other parents must be feeling the same way, so I contacted Spotlight Cinemas, and they eagerly jumped at the opportunity and have been really great to work with.”
For families like the Ksyniaks, adapted showings are a way for the entire family to enjoy the experience while being sensitive to the person with autism.
“Most people who live with autism have difficulty with being in an unusual place,” Ksyniak said. “Combine that with heightened sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste, and you have what we call sensory overload.
“With a gentle viewing, the theater stays dimly lit so it is not dark while the movie is playing, the movie sound is decreased to a tolerable volume, and the kids also have the ability to get up and move around the theater as they need to as this helps them to regulate themselves when or if they become over stimulated,” she said.
Ksyniak approached Rick Phillips from Spotlight Cinemas about the idea of an adapted showing of the movie because Spotlight was the family’s preferred movie theater.
“It has a very welcoming atmosphere, and the staff is always friendly and helpful,” she said. “They seem very family oriented and caring, and after working with them on this event I can attest to that.”
For more information about autism and autism spectrum disorders, visit the ASM’s website, www.asmonline.org. For more information about this event, email Jacksmom407@aol.com or visit Jackson’s facebook page, www.facebook.com/JacksCorner407.