Limelighting it up for Autism – a session for the senses

The powers behind the movie making business these days are all about inclusion and ensuring everyone is represented appropriately on screen, but what about their audiences?

Interior of limelight cinema theatre

Everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy a trip to the movies.

And, given that April is Autism Awareness month, you can bet I mean that includes people with Autism and sensory issues.

Now I know that there is a lot of passion and (much like Autism itself) a spectrum of divided opinions about the approach from pretty much everyone in and around the Autism community. “Don’t use blue, it’s a male colour”, “don’t use a puzzle piece, Autism doesn’t need to be solved”, “you are reinforcing harmful stereotypes”, I could go on.

I’d like to look at this from a simpler perspective, if I may.

It is about understanding and allowing yourself to consider a world through the eyes of someone who has Autism. It means looking for opportunities to include them in your life and, more broadly, society.

Which is why I was overjoyed that my local Limelight Cinemas made the call to run what they call “Lighten Up Sessions”, events where people with special needs and sensory issues can enjoy something a lot of us take for granted.

Limelight PR Ad

The concept is simple. Lights are dimmed but not off, the sound is turned down, assistive technology is welcome, there’s no trailers or ads pre show, you don’t have to line up and kids can rove around the theatre as they see fit.

And, the most important rule that everyone has to abide by, above everything else, is no shushing or eye-rolling.

It’s a sanctuary free from the judgement and the general misunderstanding that people within the Autism community know all too well.

What was the movie? Well that doesn’t really matter but for those playing at home it was Peter Rabbit. I can’t review it because honestly, I didn’t see more than half of it, but that was to be expected.

What happens at these special screenings?

Well, the first thing I noticed was the majority of people in attendance were young families. In spite of us all being given this wonderful opportunity, there was an initial tension in the air. I think when your day to day is all about putting strategies in place to navigate what seems like a normal situation to others, something that seems too good to be true, or is just going really well, means you’re one step closer to overload and total thermonuclear meltdown!

Carers were on tender hooks wondering how this would play out. Would it trigger said meltdown? Would this new experience be too much to take? Kids could barely contain their excitement, eyes like dinner plates. Some were taking in this new and foreign experience for the first time, not knowing what to expect.

The first twenty or so minutes were rough, but then the tension broke.

One kid got up and started wandering around, others followed suit. Some started talking and giggling with delight when Peter Rabbit and his pal’s electrocuted Mr MacGregor’s nephew. A dad sat at the top of the aisle while a mum sat at the bottom so their son could wander up and down the stairs and get some movement happening which seemed to settle him so he could take it all in. Other kids and their parents lay down on the floor in front of the screen. I could hear a non-verbal girl a few rows in front squeaking with excitement and delight.

It was as if all the oxygen was let back into the room as everyone started to enjoy the experience together, but also in their own special ways.

Knowing that these opportunities are being provided by businesses like Limelight Cinemas is truly wonderful, and a great step towards a more inclusive society. Far too often we fail to understand what it is like to occupy the position someone else is in, we’ve got enough on our plate and I totally get that. Everyone’s lives are incredibly full these days.

But, the next time you see a kid throwing what you interpret as a tantrum or an adult freaking out, consider the possibility that everything may have just got a bit too much for them. Maybe we, as a society, could do a little bit more to make their journey through life easier.

Thankyou to the management of Limelight Cinemas Tuggeranong, and their amazing staff, for realising that everyone deserves a trip to the movies.

My only hope is these opportunities become more frequent. The larger cinema chains could learn a lot from the way these guys engage their community and respect their patrons.

Well done!


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