Reporting Natalie Nyhus
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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — For most of us, going to and sitting through a movie is no big deal, but for someone with autism or for their families, it can be downright difficult.
Individuals with autism can be sensitive to sensations like loud noises, direct eye contact and lack of light making everyday activities a challenge.
But now, each Saturday morning, families touched by autism are gathering at Mall of America for movie time.
“It’s hard for families who are touched by autism to go out to dinner sometimes or to go to a mall,” said Keith Graunke, events director for Autism Speaks. “It may be overstimulating for one member of the family.”
Graunke’s 8-year-old son Gabe has autism. He recalls a trip to the movie theaters when Gabe struggled to not disrupt the other moviegoers.
“It made us a little uncomfortable,” he said. “Sometimes the glares, the stares, that judgmental look can be deflating for a family event.”
So Graunke and Autism Speaks have partnered with the Theaters at Mall of America to give these families the chance to do something they normally couldn’t: watch a flick without getting flack.
“We create an environment so that they can enjoy a movie experience just like the rest of us do,” said Graunke.
Every Saturday morning, before rolling the film they throw out those unwritten rules of the movie theater — being quiet, staying still.
“We turn the sound down, turn lights up. We create some assistance for transitional issues — so bathrooms, concessions,” he said. “We create that friendly environment of acceptance.”
That’s empowering for children with autism, their families and anyone who is affected by the disorder.
“I wish we had it when Gabe was younger,” said Graunke.
The staff has been trained to deal with customers with autism.
Anyone can attend, not just families connected to autism. The types of movies are G-rated, family-friendly films. The movies are free and run at 10 a.m. every Saturday.