By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Photo by Joe Lumaya/Ventura County Star

Simi Valley theater shows movies without distractions

October 10, 2014

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - Everyone deserves a chance to see a movie in a comfortable theater environment, according to Megan Wood, general manager of Simi Valley 10 Cinemas.

“We understand that finding things to do as a family can be difficult so we wanted to give everyone an opportunity no matter what the circumstances,” said Wood, of Simi Valley.

For the past two years, Simi Valley 10 Cinemas on Los Angeles Avenue has offered “autism friendly” screenings on the first Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. for $3.75 a ticket.

“Anyone is welcome to attend these screenings, even the general public, as long as they are accepting of the environment we provide,” said Wood. “All ranges of those with special needs are welcome.”

For these shows, the lights are halfway up and the sound halfway down.

“This way no one gets any kind of sensory overload and can feel more comfortable,” Wood explained.

These screenings also allow outside food and drinks to assist with dietary needs.

“And we take the trailers off the beginning so there doesn’t have to be any delays or further distractions,” Wood said. “We permit families to walk around and make noise if they need to without fear of disrupting other patrons in the theater.”

The effort is publicized mainly by word of mouth.

Theater personnel respond to cues from the audience during regular checks throughout the movie.

“Sometimes they’ll hold their ears if the sound is too loud or they’re shivering because they’re cold,” said Bobby Holmes, of Simi Valley, shift leader. “We’ll accommodate them.”

During a September screening of “Earth to Echo,” Leighton Walker, a caregiver, was in attendance with his client, Rob Freeman, 55, who has autism.

“We do two movies on Saturdays because of the price – it’s price efficient because a lot of people with special needs are on budgets,” said Walker, of Thousand Oaks.

Walker said that Freeman is not sensitive to sound or light.

“For him it doesn’t matter but I have other guys that are sensitive to light, loud sounds,” Walker said. “It’s very welcoming that they can come here.”

Earlier this month, Jennifer Kodama, of Thousand Oaks, saw “How to Tame Your Dragon” with her son and her friend’s three grandchildren – none of whom have special needs.

“It’s important that children with special needs have a place to go where their needs are being met,” said Kodama, a fourth-grade teacher in Las Virgenes. “It’s proactive that the theater is actually doing this.”

Simi Valley 10 Cinemas is one of five theaters owned by Tristone Cinemas, Wood added.

“And all of them provide this for their community,” said Wood.

“We knew it was easier for us to provide special screenings and community participation than it would be for larger corporations,” Wood said. “Especially out here in Ventura County we noticed a growing population of families with special needs children and we wanted to be able to accommodate them.”

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