By Ciara Dennehy and Kayla Lupoli-Nolan
The second sensory movie screening at the Connetquot Public Library on Saturday March 24th, showcased the Lego Ninjago movie for four children and their parents as part of a movement to include new community programs.
This is the second year that Connetquot Public Library featured a sensory friendly screening and the turnout has already improved.
“Last year we did the screening during Autism Awareness month in April. Unfortunately, the turnout wasn’t great because it was the first really nice day of the year,” Cecile Mazza, organizer of the event and a Connetquot children’s librarian, said. “This is something I would like to do every year, and depending on how many use this event, maybe even more than once a year.”
Unlike a typical screening, sensory friendly ones use slightly dimmed lights, softer volume, and include snacks and activities. During the Lego Ninjago screening, children could color books and play with Legos. These small adjustments help children who may feel overstimulated by the environment of a dark theater more comfortable.
“For children that may have sensory issues the loudness of a regular movie may be overwhelming to them,” Mazza said. “They may have difficulty remaining still and quiet, so in this sensory friendly screening, moms don’t have to worry about their children yelling or wanting to move around.”
These events are geared towards children with sensory issues and children who may be on the autism spectrum, but all ages and families are welcome. The only requirement is being a member of the library.
“The goal is for the children to feel comfortable in the library and more at ease with the experience of attending a movie,” Mazza said. “The atmosphere is one that is informal and less restrictive, giving them the opportunity to relax and fully enjoy the experience of this community event.”
It’s a great opportunity for families to meet, siblings of children with autism to get to know other kids, and anyone to enjoy a movie in a climate of acceptance and understanding, the Autism Society states on its website.
“Creating an environment for kids with sensory issues to thrive is important,” Steven Chu, a resident of the district and first grade teacher, said. “Depending on where they’re at, loud noises such as movies can be too much for them and they become overstimulated.”
The Connetquot Public Library is at the heart of a large district, and serves over three towns with roughly 50,000 residents combined. Since the sensory program begun two years ago, the library has been increasingly redirecting its mission. Because of the internet, less people are relying on the library for books, so they want people to come for both the programs and books.
“The screening is a great experience,” Cameron Sheehan, a resident who brought his little sister to the screening, said. “Anything that makes stuff more inclusive is usually for the better. If the library events like this, maybe then maybe people will stumble upon the magic of books while they’re here.”
The library offers different activities: from Pre-K classes to teaching the elderly how to use an IPhone class.
“Books are not being checked out as much as they used to,” Joan Palmer, a Connetquot Public Library librarian, said. “Now people can find the books they want online, so there is no need to come check one out anymore. Now the main focus is changing the whole aspect of the library, the things that draw people in.”
The emerging programs at Connetquot Public Library are not only serving as fun and educational experiences for its members, but it is a way of bringing the community together, and allowing the library to remain relevant despite the technological advances going on around it.