BY ROSIE PIGA PIZZO
With the lights up and the volume down, the Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) Autism & Sensory-Friendly Movie program flips all expectations of what it means to go to the movies. In this theater, talking and movement are not only allowed, they’re expected.
“It can be a tough experience for parents to go to a movie or program and feel concerned about their child’s behavior,” says Chris Jackson, MCPL special audiences strategist. “Here, they don’t have to.”
The free movies are shown in the MCPL auditorium, 303 E. Kirkwood, and before each show the staff reminds patrons of the “no shushing” policy. Singing and speaking during the movie, rather than keeping quiet, are perfectly acceptable. “We don’t want behaviors that others may see as inappropriate [in a different setting] to discourage families from coming to these movies,” Jackson says.
Elizabeth Housworth remembers having to leave theaters with her son, Ireah. “I’m more relaxed knowing that I don’t have to rush out just because he’s making a sound or a brief fuss,” she says of the MCPL movie experience. “I like being able to watch an entire movie with Ireah.”
The movies are selected by Jackson and children’s librarian Ellen Arnholter. They look for recent releases that appeal to audiences ages 5 and up. Musicals and animated films are popular choices. November’s showing of Incredibles 2 brought in 35 moviegoers. “We’re happy when we have audience numbers in the teens and twenties,” Jackson says.
The program began in 2013 after a staff training session given by Kristie Brown Lofland of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University. Lofland and retired children’s librarian Mary Frasier strategized how to best serve families with autism. “Mary deserves the credit,” Jackson says. “She was instrumental in getting this started and encouraged the showing of these movies.”
Autism & Sensory-Friendly Movies started as a once-a-month program but has evolved to an every-other-month format, alternating between weekday evening and weekend afternoon showtimes. “People want new releases, so we found it’s better to show movies less frequently in order to offer well-received movies,” Jackson says. The movies are open to anyone, regardless of disability status.
The next movie is scheduled for March 24 with the title announced two weeks in advance. For more information, including movies and showtimes, visit mcpl.info.