A pioneering initiative to organise special screenings for autistic children has been a big hit at a cinema in Wrexham.
The sessions are hosted by the Odeon at the Eagles Meadow shopping centre in Wrexham which make a series of adjustments to the way films are shown tailored to the requirements of youngsters with the condition.
And one of their most enthusiastic regular viewers is eight-year-old Evan McLeod-Andrews from Gwersyllt near Wrexham.
The screenings also get the seal of approval from Evan’s mum, Kelly McLeod-Andrews, who is vice-chair of the Wrexham branch of the National Autistic Society and reckons they are a “brilliant” idea.
Odeon manager Andy Elvis explained: “They are aimed specifically at a younger audience and recently we’ve screened films such as Angry Birds, Thomas the Tank Engine and Finding Dory, which all went down very well.
“We put them on every six or seven weeks, depending on the titles available.
“We make one or two adjustments to tailor them to the requirements of those with autism, such as allowing the audience a little longer to settle down before the film begins, reducing the normal volume level and leaving the house lights on during the screening.
“We also have a quiet room available where people can go if they need to calm down a bit after watching the action on screen.”
He added: “The screenings allow people with autism to do normal things, like going to the cinema, without feeling any pressure.
“They enable people to watch films in comfort without worrying about anything.
“The autism friendly events are just part of our programme of special screenings. We also have ones for seniors on Tuesday and Thursdays along with Odeon Newbies for the parents of new born babies every Thursday apart from holiday weeks.
“The screenings are proving very popular and we are delighted to host them because we want to help raise awareness of autism.
“We’d now like a lot more to come along to enjoy them.”
Helping to spread the word about the screenings is Kelly McLeod-Andrews, vice-chairman of the National Autistic Society’s Wrexham branch, which has over 300 people on its mailing list.
She said: “My son Evan has autism and also speech impairment and development delays but he absolutely loves watching films and TV.
“I’ve brought him along to a few of the special screenings and he really enjoys them. I also think they’re a brilliant idea.
“For the past three years Evan has been attending The Rofft Primary School in Marford where he’s in the resource provision which specialises in social and communication issues.
“He’s happy and progressing well at his own pace, which is all we can hope for.
“The most recent special screenings we’ve been to at the Odeon have been CGI ones like How to Train Your Dragon 3, Frozen and Finding Dory, both of which Evan really liked.”
Kelly added: “They do a number of things such as turning down the sound and making the cinema not quite so dark as usual.
“One of the main things we like is that they don’t expect the audience to remain in their seats and stay completely silent while the film is on.
“Sometimes the children can get a little bit noisy but I feel ok about it if I know people aren’t going to be judging their behaviour.
“Evan doesn’t really understand yet that in the cinema people have to be quiet and not move around.
“Another thing I really like about them is that they cut out the adverts, which is good because any child gets a bit fidgety while they are on.
“I think the screenings are very useful and I know a lot of people from the branch who take their children to them.
“Whenever we know there’s one coming up we put out the word on our Facebook page, which is seen by lots of people. In fact, during the last Autism Awareness Week in April we reached over 300,000 people, which we just couldn’t believe.
“The screenings help make people more aware of autism and I’d certainly recommend that other people go along to the Odeon and take a look at them.”
Eagles Meadow manager Kevin Critchley: “I think the autism friendly screenings at the Odeon are a brilliant idea. Cinema is a wonderful form of entertainment and it is only right and proper that it should be accessible to all.”
The NAS Wrexham branch’s Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/WrexhamNAS/?fref=ts