Kay Forrest – The Corsair
Beginning with “Astro Boy” on Nov. 7 at 10 a.m., The Breeze Cinema 8 in Gulf Breeze will be the first in the area to offer Sensory Sensitive Movies (SSM) for Autistic and other special needs children.
The Breeze will do a special showing of a first-run children’s movie the first Saturday of every month at 10 a.m. If a suitable movie is not in theaters the first weekend of the month, the SSM showing will be moved to a later Saturday.
Started by AMC theaters (AMC calls them Sensory Sensitive Films) at the suggestion of a concerned parent, the SSM program provides a more calming theater experience for special needs children who are sensitive to lights and sounds.
For SSM showings, the lights in the auditorium will be left on throughout the movie for children who are frightened by the dark. Also, the volume of the movie will be lower than usual, for those sensitive to loud noises.
“The good thing [about Sensory Sensitive Movies] is, at the same time that the kids are watching this movie, there’s going to be kids just like them in the theater. And, they will be able to do whatever they like: jump around, dance, yell, laugh, and no one is going to look at them differently,” said Mike Aguado, PJC student and general manager of The Breeze.
During SSM showings, the theater will also offer parents the option of bringing their own snacks for children with special diets.
“We’re trying to make sure they can bring in their own snacks. We do understand that some people have gluten-free diets; they need to be able to bring their gluten-free snacks and their casein-free snacks. We’re very aware of that,” said Aguado. “We’re also trying to train our employees to be able to be sensitive to the children’s needs.”
Like AMC, The Breeze is now offering the SSM program at the suggestion of a parent with an Autistic child.
“We were approached by a parent about a program similar to this [that is being implemented] in Atlanta and south Florida. Our owner heard about it and decided to jump on board,” Aguado said.
According to Aguado, the Autism Society of the Panhandle, and the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) are both excited about the program being offered; both groups are promoting this step forward.
PJC student and older brother of a special needs child, Alex Johnson, 18, thinks the SSM program will be a “wonderful opportunity” for local mentally challenged children and their families.
“It will give the kids a chance to make friends and have fun watching movies in a non-intimidating way,” Johnson said.
Aguado hopes this program will not only benefit the children, but also raise Autism awareness in the community.
“Our [employees] now will understand more what kind of needs these kids have. Not everybody knows what they should about Autism. And, I think that this will help in educating people,” he said.
He doesn’t know what the future holds, but Aguado hopes the SSM program will “really take off” and be offered in more theaters.
“We really expect big things with this. We hope it does really well here, in this area and this community. I feel really good about this. But, it’s not just me; [all of us at the theater] feel really good about doing something like this. Because it’s not just benefiting us; it’s benefiting others. We are thrilled to do it,” he said.