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Special screening

Children with autism or a physical or behavioral disability, some who have never attended a movie in public or at least with siblings and friends, were treated to an animated film Saturday morning at the Bison 6 Cinema in Jamestown.

Children with autism or a physical or behavioral disability, some who have never attended a movie in public or at least with siblings and friends, were treated to an animated film Saturday morning at the Bison 6 Cinema in Jamestown.

Around 20 children ages 3-12 ,who receive occupational therapy services at the Anne Carlsen Center in Jamestown, along with 55 family members, attended a special screening of "The Smurfs: The Lost Village" in a setting designed to accommodate various needs to help them with a new sensory perspective.
"This is the first time we have done this locally," said Kris Nitschke, the team leader of the Anne Carlsen Center's occupational therapy department. "This special screening allows them to be in a judgement free zone."

For three of the children it was the first movie they have seen in public, she said. For 10 others it was the first time they could watch a movie in public with their families.

Lisa Wibstad, Jamestown, brought her 6-year-old granddaughter, Amy, who would not otherwise attend a public movie for fear of being disruptive. Amy was able to attend her first public movie with her siblings, she said.

"She had a meltdown and didn't want to get out of the car and I had to carry her in," Wibstad said. "As soon as she saw Katie and Chris (occupational therapists who are familiar to her), she was fine."

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Nitschke organized the event with her fellow therapists, Emily Krapp, Cassie Sharma, Katie Egal, Jessica Colburn and assistant therapist Kari Johnson. Children were given "fidget" items to keep hands busy while viewing the film, and could walk around or use alternative seating options such as bean bags, inflatable balls, blankets and play tents.

Therapists assisted in calming or re-engaging children with the movie when needed, Nitschke said. The multiple disabilities ranged from autism spectrum to social or behavioral challenges, which meant the type of assistance needed for children to enjoy the film varied.

"The kids need time to process and interpret and communicate things differently than we do," she said.

A loud and dark theater can be frightening or even painful for people with visual or auditory sensitivities, she said. This meant further adjustments were needed for the special screening, she said.

"We turned the lights up and the sound down a little bit, and gave them some room to play if they can't concentrate on the movie," said Cory Keim, general manager of Bison 6 Cinema.

Anne Carlsen Center has private screenings during the holidays at Bison 6 Cinema, but this is the first time that the theater was prepared with assistive items and special accommodations, he said. The theater has wheelchair space and other accessibility features, but this was a little more tailored to the children's special needs, he said.

"The Smurfs" movie had stopped running on Thursday to make way for the more popular "The Boss Baby" film, Keim said. Children from the Anne Carlsen Center were expecting to see the "The Smurfs," so the film was made available to them.

"The kids were excited about it," Keim said.

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The event coincides with National Occupational Therapy Month and National Autism Awareness Month, Nitschke said. It is also the 100th anniversary of occupational therapy. A great outcome for the event would be if the children enjoy the experience and are able to communicate this to their families and enhance sibling relationships, she said.

Tim Eissinger, chief operations officer at the Anne Carlsen Center, said the event represents the school's mission to make the world a more inclusive place where independence is a gift to everyone.

The event accomplished its goals and more, he said, as nervous children began to show exciting smiles, which was then transferred to parents who were just as thrilled to have an opportunity to enjoy a social activity together, he said.

"Their (the occupational therapy department) initiative and their investment in this is phenomenal and I think it has a great impact on the families of Jamestown that efforts like this take place," Eissinger said.

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