A formal commitment to include people with autism in their community through work and play was announced this morning as an extension of a partnership between AMC Entertainment and the Autism Society of America.
The AMC Sensory Friendly Films announcement occurred at ShoWest, the movie industry's largest convention today, which is World Autism Awareness Day.
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For nearly a year, the two organizations have brought a pilot program to communities across the United States, giving families affected by autism a chance to go to the movies together – most for the first time.
Now, with the formalization of their partnership, the two organizations will continue to bring the popular AMC Sensory Friendly Films program to families while planning for a workforce program to address the needs of those children as they grow up.
With support from ASA, AMC will begin an employment program that will help individuals on the autism spectrum participate as visible, valued members of the workforce.
"We are proud to expand this partnership into a program featuring multiple ways for our organization to make a difference in the lives of the estimated 1.5 million people in the U.S. living with autism spectrum disorder," said Gerry Lopez, chief executive officer and president, AMC.
"Not only will we continue to offer families affected by autism the chance to enjoy a special movie experience in a safe and accepting environment, but we look forward to launching our employment program, which will offer those affected by autism the opportunity to contribute to the AMC workforce in a meaningful manner."
Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disability that typically appears during the first two years of life and affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. It often comes with sensory sensitivities, which is why for the Sensory Friendly Films program, the lights are slightly turned up and the sound slightly turned down.
Perhaps the most significant accommodation for families affected by autism is the suspension of AMC's "Silence is Golden" policy – guests are allowed to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing, creating a safe and accepting environment for families that might otherwise never be able to attend a movie due to the challenges of autism.
With two shows this April, National Autism Awareness Month – "Monsters v. Aliens" on April 4 and "Hannah Montana The Movie" on April 18 – the program will continue to bring joy to families across the country.
In addition to the recreational opportunity of AMC Sensory Friendly Films, the partnership will create a new employment opportunity for people on the spectrum.
According to a 2008 Easter Seals/Mass Mutual study, 76 percent of teenagers with autism over the age of 16 have never looked for a job, and 76 percent of parents of children with autism are concerned about their child's future employment. With help from top experts in the field, ASA will support AMC in developing a workforce program in their theatres that aims to change that landscape for families today.
"ASA is thrilled to have AMC as a partner in our efforts to improve the lives of all affected by autism," said ASA Board Chair Dr. Cathy Pratt. "The new workforce initiative is especially exciting because not only does it offer people with autism a much-needed opportunity for employment, but communities will be able to see that those on the spectrum can take steps toward independence by becoming valued members of the workforce."