Living with Cerebral Palsy 🍋🍋

Sunday, 24 November 2019

In Praise Of Relaxed Screenings


“Relaxed Screenings” or as they are sometimes called, “Autism Friendly” screenings at cinemas and theatres have been widely around, a quick google search tells me,  since about 2011 (although if you think about it, it kind of beggars belief that it took so long!) These screenings have subtle changes to the cinema or theatre environment, which means that people who have sensory difficulties have a more positive experience than they would in a traditional cinema setting. Changes include:
-Lights being kept at a low level
-Lower than usual sound levels
-No trailers or adverts-just the film
-Allowance for increased movements and noise.
These screenings haven’t been something we have always felt the need to bother with. Elin has historically been ok at the cinema and on the rare occasion we might have taken her to the theatre, enjoying the experiences without over stimulation. However as she has matured, we have discovered this not to be the case. The adverts and trailers (which these days seem INCREDIBLY loud-or am I just getting old???) upset her. They make her jump and the surround sound disorientates her. The noise triggers her dystonia and before the event has even started, she is struggling to focus.  The pitch black makes it hard to manage her physically and tube feeding or medicine administration is especially difficult.  Just recently, a new problem has reared its head for us. That is, that when Elin becomes over stimulated or over excited, she gets very, very noisy. She starts laughing so hard it can turn into squealing.  This is actually a lovely reaction and shows a high level of awareness, which is great. But, did I mention …its NOISY. This is problematic if it is prolonged, or regular throughout the showing, because it’s so distracting for other audience members.  Now, I’m all for allowing Elin to express her joy, of course I am. I will fight Elin’s right to equal experiences despite her disability to the death. But true equality has to be equality for all. So when Elin gets really, really, noisy for prolonged periods in a cinema I can start to feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to interrupt anyone’s fun. More importantly, I don’t want Elin to be seen as an annoyance or a problem. I also understand that these events are not just a special experience for us, it a special (and often expensive!) experience for all other families there too. I don’t believe in Elin’s right to enjoy herself at the expense of the enjoyment of others. It pains me to say it, but it just doesn't feel fair.
So after a particularly difficult visit to see “The Lion King” this Summer, where we ended up having to leave, due to little foghorn Drake, we decided that where possible we would only access relaxed performances from now on.  How lucky are we that this is an option for us now? True inclusion can mean I think, not lumping everyone together regardless of ability to allow them the ‘same’ experience, but providing tailored versions of that same experience in order to allow appropriate opportunities, choice and options.  Bravo to those venues around the country for realising this.
This weekend we have been to see the Disney film of the year and highly anticipated sequel “Frozen 2” . I was really excited because I had such good memories of the first one, Elin had loved it and it was six years ago when our trips out would more often be misses than hits, so it had meant a lot to have a successful trip out. We spent, like most families, the next few months listening to the soundtrack on repeat and Elin couldn’t get enough.  The great thing about Disney films are the musical numbers and advanced graphics. They are meaningful to Elin and tend to keep her engaged way more than any other kids films out here. I’m pleased to report our trip echoed that of our trip six years ago. She absolutely loved it and sat in her chair the whole way through the film, laughing loads. She didn’t just laugh at the film, she laughed at the other children audibly enjoying their experience too. When she began, as she was bound to, getting a little over excited, we didn’t feel any of the stress of previous performances that she might be distracting other people.  It didn’t matter.
By introducing these special screenings and making some simple changes to an ordinary format, the Odeon (and other participating venues, of which our personal experience extends to Chester's ‘Storyhouse’ theatre too) have given the opportunity for families like ours to have an extra-ordinary time. Thank you. Sometimes a small change can make a big difference.
"Frozen 1"  2013        vs         "Frozen 2" 2019

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