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Pullman theater to host autism-friendly screening

November 14, 2018

HUNTINGTON — The rest of the world practically demands a pitch dark movie theater, teeth-shaking sound, and that patrons stay still and seated the entire time while watching a film.

But for those living on the autism spectrum — and those who love them — seemingly small details like that can make an otherwise normal movie experience unenjoyable, if not intolerable.

With those special sensory needs in mind, the West Virginia Autism Training Center, Marquee Cinemas and the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce have organized a special, spectrum-friendly screening of this year’s animated movie “The Grinch” on Saturday, Dec. 8, at Pullman Square in downtown Huntington.

The showing will take into consideration the many, varied needs of those living with autism spectrum disorder — details the average, unfamiliar person would take for granted.

The lights inside the theater will be turned up slightly, and the volume will be softened a bit. Guests will be free to get up and move inside the theater should they feel the need, and outside snacks for those with special diets will be allowed in.

“It’s just an experience all people should have as a family, but some of those individuals with autism spectrum disorder struggle in that environment,” said Dr. Marc Ellison, executive director of the West Virginia Autism Training Center, located at Marshall University.

Huntington has long been a hub for autism services in the region, Ellison said. Sensory-friendly movie screenings aren’t a new concept nationwide, but only a few have ever been hosted in West Virginia, and none at all in the Tri-State.

The coming show may serve as a proof of concept to host additional similar screenings in the future, and the response is expected to attract families from across the region.

“I fully expect people will come from several counties to downtown Huntington to be able to watch these films,” Ellison said. “What I’m really hoping is that we can show there is a real market for this, and that we can do this on a regular basis.”

For the theater, it’s a small, simple courtesy that can mean the world to a family. These types of screenings have been discussed at a corporate level by Marquee Cinemas, but Huntington will be one of the first to put it into practice.

“It’s a simple thing to do in an environment where there’s going to be other kids like them,” cinema manager Charlotte Alesi said. “Nobody’s going to get mad if someone is loud or if they stand up, and I’m just glad to be a part of something like this for the community.”

Registration is suggested, but not required, to give the theater an approximation of how many will be in attendance. A link to register online will be posted Tuesday on the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University’s Facebook page, along with additional details.

Doors open at 9 a.m. Saturday and the film will start promptly at 10 a.m. with no previews - another consideration aimed at minimizing waiting, Ellison said.

Tickets are $6 per person and may be purchased at the door or in advance at three locations: the Autism Training Center main office at 316 Old Main on Marshall’s Huntington campus, or at the two Diversified Assessment & Therapy Services offices located at 1404 Popular St. in Kenova, or 33 Urskine Lane, Suite B in Scott Depot. Tickets must be purchased with cash.

WV ATC can be reached for more information at 304-696-2332.

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