New Zealand-first movie screening for children with autism

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A Christchurch shopping centre will host a New Zealand-first Sensory Movie Day for children with autism and other sensory processing disorders. On Sunday 11 September at 10.30am, The Palms Shopping Centre will have an exclusive screening of The Secret Life of Pets for families of children with special needs. The Palms will donate all proceeds from the event’s ticket sales to the Champion Centre, a Canterbury-based organisation that specialises in building futures for children with special needs. The initiative follows the centre’s recent Platinum accessibility rating and Sensory Santa initiative last year.

For most families a movie is a regular activity, a great escape from the everyday routine and a chance to spend quality time with one another. But for kids with sensory disorders it can be a nightmare, sitting in a darkened room full of strangers where they are forced to be quiet while the loud volume proves overwhelming. Along with the disapproving stares from unfamiliar people, this is far from a great escape. In fact, for many it is not even an option.

The aim of Sensory Movie Day is to create a judgement-free zone and allow families to participate in a normal day-to-day activity. Children are free to move about and make noise, lights are dimmed and sound levels are lowered. The Champion Centre will bring volunteers from St Margaret’s College who will supervise at all times, and there will be wheelchair seating and access.

The Sensory Movie Day concept was originally brought to life five years ago by Chanelle Avison, which saw her recently nominated for a Longman Award. After struggling to find inclusive activities for her autistic twins, she found solace in movies and approached her local cinema with the concept.

“For many children with autism and sensory processing disorders, everyday activities can be too much. There are so many things that I have to think about, even just to leave the house with my children – I have found that the public can be quite judgemental in a situation that sometimes is out of our control.

“We have heard from so many families in New Zealand that would love to be able to take their children to a movie, and we are delighted that The Palms is helping to remove sensory barriers for these children and hope that many others will follow suit around the country.”

The Palms Shopping Centre marketing manager Laura Jones says, “We are passionate about ensuring that our centre is accessible for everyone, and feel very fortunate that we can offer families a safe zone where no judgement will be passed. Not only is this event a chance to open our doors and give families the opportunity to live a normal life, but a chance to raise awareness about autism and sensory disorders and what a big difference sensory experiences can make in people’s lives.

“Tickets to this event sold out in a matter of days, which tells us that there is a great demand for these sorts of initiatives. We plan to host more events of this nature in the near future and hope to be able to accommodate more people.”