For children with autism, enjoying an outing at a movie theatre can be overwhelming; the sounds too loud, the lights too low.

On Saturday, several movie theatres offered these children a different option – a sensory-friendly presentation of a film.

And it wasn’t just any film. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a film loaded with the special effects, sounds and music, was transformed into a more pleasant experience for kids with autism.

Cinéma Cineplex Kirkland, Cinéma Cineplex Odeon Brossard and Cinéma Cineplex Laval screened the blockbuster, offering:

  • Increased lighting
  • Lower sounds
  • Fewer trailers
  • Opportunity to bring their own snacks
  • A nearby 'calm room'

“The lighting in the room might be adjusted a bit, the sound, there might be fewer trailers, etc. to make things a bit more comfortable for people with autism,” Nick Katalifos, the chairman of Giant Steps, a school for kids with autism.

The theatres also provided the calm room so anyone who felt they might want to leave the theatre for a few minutes could go there, relax and return if they wished.

Autism Speaks organized the screening, offering a chance for the parents and their children to bond and not worry.

“This is perfect because I don't think at this stage it would be possible to bring him to a regular film, because he gets very enthusiastic,” said Sean McGuire, who son has autism.

For the Cineplex in Laval, it's just one of many efforts being made by the city to accommodate people with autism.

One year ago, the city adopted a motion to become an autism-inclusive city.

That means firefighters, police and bus drivers are all trained on how to deal with people with autism.

“It's an incredible undertaking for the city and we are the first city in Quebec to be autistic-friendly,” said David Decotis, Laval’s deputy mayor.

“We've already trained out police force, our fire department our bus drivers at STL and that's just the first phase of the project. The second phase that we want to integrate is 91 to have a registrar and we can identify is a child has autism or not.”

It’s an initiative Laval says more cities should follow, since current estimates now say 1 in 68 children in the U.S. lives with autism/ASD. Those numbers correspond with data also collected in Canada.

For now, the Laval theatre and others say they'll screen sensory-friendly films on a regular basis-- something not only families with autism, but many others who prefer not to feel sensory overload during films, can appreciate.