Autistic kids enjoy dedicated ‘Star Wars’ screening

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Watching a movie in a theater is designed to be a fun escape, but for many families with special needs children the experience can be the opposite.

Hezekiah Bailey, 10, of Detroit, eats popcorn as he holds a figurine of “Star Wars” character Finn, portrayed by John Boyega. Hezekiah is autistic.

That’s why Emagine Theaters in Novi and Centria Health Care have teamed up to set aside theaters on the first and third Saturdays of the month for the families of special needs children, particularly those with autism.

Talking during the show or getting up and walking around isn’t frowned upon. The theater’s sound is adjusted lower and the room isn’t as dark. About 70 families came Saturday morning to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

“This is a great idea,” said Vertongie Bailey, of Detroit who brought her two boys, Zechariah, 15, and Hezekiah, 10, who is on the autism spectrum. “They can be in their comfort zone and not feel out of place. … He would get strange stares and strange looks.”

She said she often brings a tablet and other toys to distract her son during the movie, but on Saturday she said she was less stressed about any potential outbursts. Hezekiah was eager to see the movie and brought a figurine of one of his favorite characters, Finn.

This is the third movie that Emagine and Centria, a Novi-based company that offers autism services, have partnered on to offer to special needs kids and their families.

Andrew Drozdowski, center, 24, shares a laugh with his father, David Drozdowski, right, and mother Ramona Drozdowski, both 56 and of New Hudson.

“It started by the families telling us this is one of the hardest things to experience as an entire family,” said Matt Blouin, Centria’s director of marketing said. “It is a safe and welcoming environment.”

“None of the other parents are going to give them dirty looks if their kids are talking or using an iPad.”

Jeffrey and Andrea Burris of Redford took their 5-year-old Mackenzie Burris, who has Asperger’s, and can get emotional during movies.

“If it gets too loud, she wants to duck out,” Jeffrey Burris said.

“Sometimes you just don’t go,” Andrea Burris said.

Blake Bockmann, left, 17, covers his ears as he is sensitive to loud sounds as he watches “Star Wars” for the fifth time. He sits with, right to left, his father and event organizer, Steve Bockmann, 41, his girlfriend, Stephanie Crane, 47, and her son, Joshua Harlan, 9, all of Farmington Hills.

Emagine staff members have been educated about autism and behavior specialists from Centria attend the movie as well to assist parents if needed.

The next shows are “Norm of the North” on Jan. 16 and “Kung Fu Panda” on Feb. 6. Both are at 10:30 a.m. For more information visit