“It was awesome!”
This was Jody Perkowitz’s reaction to the Child Development Center’s (CDC) special screening of the movie Spies in Disguise for children with sensory processing difficulties. Jody, her husband Joe, and their four children were among the 47 people who attended the sensory-friendly screening on Tuesday, February 4, at Kalispell’s Signature Stadium 14.
“Normally, we can’t get out of the house as a whole family, but this event made it possible for us all to go have fun together.”
The Child Development Center organized the screening for their clients with autism and other disabilities that often include sensory processing disorders. A sensory processing disorder can make the experience of a dark theater with high-impact visuals, loud sounds, and a large crowd of strangers extremely overwhelming. There is also the added stress for parents of worrying about disrupting other people if their child reacts with an outburst or tries to get up and leave in the middle of the movie.
To counteract these issues the lights were dimmed and the volume was lowered at this special showing. There were also no previews, which meant less time for the children to build up anxiety or lose focus. Beyond these technical adjustments, it was the accepting environment that really made the experience sensory friendly.
Kayla Laughlin, a CDC Family Support Specialist and one of the screening organizers, explained:
“The reason we offered the sensory friendly movie to families is mainly so they could have a safe and accepted movie experience. We rented out the entire theater so that all families attending knew CDC and were aware of children with disabilities and delays, which eased the fear of judgement. Kids could walk, talk, sing, dance, scream, and just be themselves! At worst, if it turned out a child still needed to leave early, the parents did not waste their personal money on tickets. Plus, that exposure to the theater got them one step closer to success for the next time.”
The Perkowitz family’s experience at this event reflected CDC’s intention.
“We were able to show our daughter that she would be safe. It [this screening] also allowed us to learn with her about what triggers her and what calms her in this environment so that, next time, we can do even better.”
One tip that Jody wanted to share with other families in a similar situation was to come in two vehicles if possible. This way, if a child experiences sensory overload and needs to leave, the rest of the family can stay and finish the movie without guilt or stress.
“Ultimately, our daughter didn’t make it through the whole movie, but that’s okay. We made it a lot longer than I thought we would, and this positive experience encouraged us to try again.”
Going to the movies as a family is a treat, and not just thanks to the popcorn, soda, and candy! When we share a special experience with our children, we can follow it up with a meaningful conversation, we can bond, and we can form a lasting memory. All children—not just those who are typically developing—should have access to this social learning opportunity. Thanks to the generous support of the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation, CDC was able to offer this sensory friendly screening.
Although this event was only for clients of CDC, the agency hopes to be able to offer a public sensory friendly screening in the future. If you are interested in participating in or supporting such an event, please contact the Child Development Center.
The Child Development Center (CDC) is a nonprofit that partners with families whose children have delays and disabilities, supporting their needs where they live, play, and grow across western Montana. All children deserve the opportunity to pursue their potential. With the right support, every child can thrive.
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