Families settle in for a screening of “The Star” in Fresno during Maya Cinemas’ special “Maya Cares” program for kids on the autism spectrum. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
David Garcia is 11. He likes movies and tracing logos — he’s especially fond of the Minions. Going to the movies, however, can be a difficult experience.
This is because David is on the autism spectrum — a range of conditions that present challenges with social activity and communication, along with repetitive behaviors. This can also include sensitivity to certain sensory stimulation. David, for example, doesn’t like to be in total darkness and needs to have some light.
“One of the characteristics of autism is a hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory stimulation or an unusual interest in some sensory aspects of the environment,” said Amanda Delgado, director of clinical services for the California Autism Center and Learning Group in Fresno. “For example, a person with autism may experience high sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights while another person with autism may really enjoy bright lights.”
At Maya Cinemas Fresno 16, however, kids like David are treated to special screenings that accommodate those with autism and other special needs. The “Maya Cares” showings, held on the first Saturday of every month, lower the volume and keep the lights on.
“You can definitely tell that they like them, and it’s also nice because they don’t get silenced like they would in other movies,” said Stephanie Jones of Maya Cinemas. “They’re allowed to make noise because everybody expects it out of them, so if there’s extra noise, no one says anything, and so it’s nice that they can actually just come here and be comfortable.”
Rachel Garcia, David’s mother, said that they try to go to the Maya Cares program every month. The family saw “The Star” on one recent Saturday.
“I feel more comfortable here with him just because of the whole atmosphere,” Rachel said. “And then there’s other kids here that are like David, I think if feels comfortable to him, too.”
And Maya Cinemas is not alone in doing special screenings where people with autism can find inclusion: Edwards Fresno Stadium 22 & IMAX in River Park has showings of “My Way Matinee” sensory-friendly films, usually held on the third Saturday of the month. Sierra Vista Cinemas 16 has its “Sensory Sensitive Films” on the last Saturday.
Similar to the movies, things such as arcades and play centers can be difficult for children on the autism spectrum due to the bright lights and loud noises.
To this end, Chuck E. Cheese’s addressed this challenge to the community with its introduction of “Sensory Sensitive Sundays.” On the first Sunday of every month, participating locations open two hours early, reducing the lighting and noise and providing a trained staff. The Chuck E. Cheese’s in the Villaggio Shopping Center is one such location.
Care for families and children with autism has also found its way into cutting hair, which can often be a traumatizing experience. Another hairdresser west of Fresno by the name of Kelly Muzio has stepped in with Hair on the Farm at her salon, The Crop Shop, giving children a view of the animals in a pen at her farm as a way to help them through their haircuts.
“Sometimes, they are just very, very, very, very upset and move tremendously a lot,” said Libbie Martinez, manager at Cool Cuts 4 Kids in Clovis. “And it’s just really sometimes very hard for them.”
Cool Cuts 4 Kids addresses this problem by getting children used to the people doing their hair. They will suggest that they come monthly, and are met with the same stylist each time. Meanwhile, the young customers are seated in a car and can watch a movie. If needed, the children can be provided with a less stressful scissor cut instead of clippers.
For more information on autism and on businesses that reach out to people with autism and their families, contact the California Autism Center and Learning Group at (559) 475-7860 or visit their website at www.calautismcenter.org.