Marcela Chiarandini wants her 6-year-old nephew to be able to enjoy a movie theater experience, but a genetic condition that affects his sensitivity to sight and sound has made that challenging.
“Just because he’s living with a disability, I don’t want him to feel left out,” she said.
With her nephew in mind, Chiarandini — who’s the performing arts center coordinator for Whitney Library in southeast Las Vegas — came up with the idea for sensory-friendly movie screenings.
The Toned Down Tuesday pilot program — the first of its kind among Clark County libraries — started in April at the Whitney on East Tropicana Avenue. In Henderson, Paseo Verde Library is launching a similar offering, as well as an adaptive storytime, in January.
Monthly movie screenings at Whitney are free and open to the public, but are geared toward those with autism spectrum disorder or Fragile X syndrome, her nephew’s condition.
During the screening, lights are dimmed and the volume is lower than in a traditional movie theater. If something triggers a moviegoer, he or she may walk around the auditorium, Chiarandini said. Attendees are also welcome to bring comfort items such as a blanket.
“We want them to feel welcomed and comfortable,” she said.
Fragile X syndrome can cause developmental issues similar to those of autism spectrum disorder, according to the National Library of Medicine. Some people with autism have hypersensitivity or reduced sensitivity to sight, sound and touch, according to the nonprofit Autism Speaks.
An estimated one in 59 children has been diagnosed with an autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it’s four times more common in boys than girls.
So far, six to 28 people have attended each of the sensory-friendly screenings at Whitney. Chiarandini said she has received positive responses from moviegoers, but so far, those living with autism or Fragile X — which is the population she says would truly benefit from it — haven’t commented.
The film isn’t always family friendly, Chiarandini said. For instance, the screening for October was “House of Wax,” which is rated R.
Family-friendly films tend to do great with everybody, Chiarandini said, but added she likes the opportunity to offer a movie on occasion just for adults.
The library recommends calling in advance to find out what movie will be shown.
Other sensory-friendly offerings
A handful of Las Vegas movie theatres offer sensory-friendly screenings, including the AMC Rainbow Promenade 10 and AMC Town Square 18, according to AMC Theatres’ website. And The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas offers sensory-friendly theater performances.
Paseo Verde Library in Henderson plans a sensory-friendly movie screening — the first it has offered — of “Toy Story 4” on Jan. 13. There’s open floor seating, and attendees are welcome to bring blankets, pillows and snacks.
The sensory-friendly screenings will happen monthly, said Kari Jensen, senior youth services specialist at Paseo Verde.
Jensen said she has a nephew with autism and that led her to think about library programs for those affected.
“We don’t have a lot for them,” she said. “I wanted to make sure we had something offered.”
Also starting in January, Paseo Verde will offer a monthly adaptive storytime, mostly for children with autism. The library’s regular storytimes are geared toward infants through 5-year-olds, but the adaptive storytimes will be open to children through age 12.
Parents will be asked to register their child beforehand, Jensen said, and can request “specific accommodations to help make their kids feel more comfortable.”