Since 2007, AMC Theatres and the Autism Society have offered screenings of “sensory friendly films” for individuals with autism and others to enjoy in a safe and accepting environment. Dim lights are left on, the sound is turned down, and families with special dietary needs are able to bring their own snacks from home. Audience members can move around, dance, walk, talk or sing – without worry that someone will complain or be disturbed.

According to the Autism Society website, the idea behind “sensory friendly films” occurred in 2007, when Marianne Ross took her young daughter Meaghan to a matinee at a local theater in Elkridge, Maryland. Other patrons complained that Meaghan was dancing, twirling and jumping up and down during the film – so the manager asked them to leave.

Marianne was frustrated, upset, and a bit angry – Meaghan was so happy and the movie-going experience ended up being so negative. It occurred to her that there were probably a lot of people who found themselves in a similar situation – or worse yet, didn’t even try to go see a movie for fear of the possible outcomes. The next day Marianne called her local AMC Theatre in Columbia Maryland. She asked if Dan Harris, the manager, would be willing to set up a special screening for children on the autism spectrum. Harris not only took Marianne up on her suggestions, he made some additional adaptions to make the move even more sensory-friendly. Marianne spread the word about the upcoming screening through her local Autism Society affiliate and amazingly, 300 people showed up and they had to turn some people away because there was no more room in the movie auditorium.

The manager added more sensory-friendly movies and shared the idea with AMC’s corporate headquarters. The community-relations manager reached out to the Autism Society of American to do screenings in other theaters around the country – and the concept continued to spread from state to state.

Today, AMC theaters in more than 30 states participate in showing “sensory friendly films.” Films are shown both during the day, for younger audiences and during the evening for more mature audiences. Most showings are on the second and fourth Tuesdays and Saturdays. To find a theater near you, or to lean more visit the AMC Theatre’s website or the Autism Society’s website.