The Oregonian

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sensory Saturdays: Films serve a sensory-sensitive clientele

In the U.S., about 1.5 million people live with autism or ASD. Oregon has the third-highest rate of autism in the country, and 80 percent of those affected with autism in Oregon are younger than 20. April is National Autism Awareness Month.

Canby Cinema 8 puts on Sensory Saturdays once a month. Children with autism to watch movies with the lights on, booming sound lowered, and freedom to talk whenever they feel like it and bring their own snacks. Now a year old, Sensory Saturdays at the Canby Cinema 8 is the longest-running event of its kind in the state.

“Children with autism or an autism spectrum disorder all have difficulty regulating themselves in an overstimulating environment or an environment they’re not familiar with,” says Dr. Sherri Alderman, a developmental pediatrician with the Pediatric Development and Rehabilitation Program at The Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel. “It is very challenging for a family to create some kind of normalcy when they have a child with autism because they can get overstimulated by a sound, or a smell, that the rest of us wouldn’t notice.”

“Instead of being excited about being around other people, and absorbing the social energy of an afternoon at the movies, Alderman says, “they could be disturbed by the sound of the popcorn popper, the shift from the colorful lobby area to the dark of the theater or the sound of the ticket taker’s voice. Things may not make as much sense.”

“One parent I know came back to me and said it was such a wonderful experience to be around people who have an understanding,” Alderman says. “It’s very rewarding to do something that every other family may take for granted, whether it’s going to the park, a mall or a movie theater.”

To read this touching story and find out when Sensory Saturdays take place visit: