Woman works to raise autism awareness in Myrtle Beach

Woman works to raise autism awareness in Myrtle Beach

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Becky Large with the Champion of Autism Network has been organizing "sensory friendly" movie showings at the Grand 14 theatre since May 2014.

Large explains going to the movies is usually something that doesn't happen for families with children that have autism because the movies are oftentimes too loud, too dark, and the children have a tough time sitting still.

Large explains the sensory friendly movies are kept well lit, the sound is turned to low, and the children are free to move around.

The LowCountry Autism Foundation has been sponsoring the events but recently announced they will no longer be doing so.

Large says the program has grown tremendously and explains the first movie showing in May attracted 12 people, and the last showing, on January 17 had more than 145 people in attendance.

Large anticipates 220 people for the next sensor friendly showing on February 7.

Large says families travel from as far as Andrews, Georgetown, and Florence to come to the showings.

Her goal is to raise $1,110 for the next showing. Right now, she is working to contact other non-profit organizations to help sponsor the showings.

She says showing being free is crucial for families, especially those who are first-timers and end up having to leave.

Large says the events have been proven to be therapeutic for both the children and the parents.

"Being able to go somewhere that people understand and get it, and are supportive, and you don't feel like your being judged all the time, it's very hard with a child, who's having a temper tantrum, you know that you know that people are looking at you going 'why can't you control your child and really, you can't," Large explained.

Large wants to make the community autism-friendly and says these events not only help children learn to sit through movies and connect with other children, but also gives parents the ability to network with each other.

The program is the second of its kind in the state of South Carolina, and Large says Charleston recently launched a similar program, but it is not free.

While trying to find a theatre to hold the event, Large says she had some difficulty until she met the General Manager at Grand 14 Cinemas. Duane Farmer.

Farmer says he was one hundred percent on board from the beginning, and now he's seeing the results.

"They're actually sitting down and watching the entire movie, no runners, and you can tell when the new kids come and their learning from the kids who've been here previously, that oh, we need to sit down and actually watch the movie, and they help the other families out, it's really interesting to watch them interact," Farmer said.

Large says this is only the beginning. She plans to start to reach out to local restaurants, museums and aquariums to make them autism-friendly for families so families who normally would not be able to go out to eat, or go out in public at all, will start to have more options.

Families have commented about the program and its effect:

"...For my child with autism, a visit to a local movie theater is expensive, and isn't the typical fun experience. Luckily, someone has recognized the sensory and financial need. My daughter looks forward to these movies every month." --Kelly C.

"There are no places that accommodate children with Autism. Socially, they are shunned and few people understand. I have found it is also a place to meet other parents and to be able to network and collaborate. Thank you for this opportunity." --Charlene S.

"I cannot adequately put into words how much sensory friendly movies mean to me. For many Autistic children in our community it is the first time they have ever been to the theater to see a movie--especially the older children in their teens. This is a huge experience for all the children and families." --Susan C.

You can donate by going to the Champion of Autism Network Facebook page or by going to Large's fundraising account.

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