In Conversation: Ann Blackburn, 2010.

Interviewee, Ann Blackburn

Date, 8 September 2010

Ann Blackburn is the Compass Development Worker at Amaze. She is responsible for the Compass card which is available to 0 -20 year olds with special needs.

Amaze is an organisation that was established in 1997. It supports parents of children with special needs. Ann describes the history of the organisation and the wide-ranging services that Amaze provides.

Ann notes how “special needs” is an umbrella-term encompassing physical disabilities, learning disabilities, children with complex health needs, and special educational needs.

The Autism-Friendly Screenings were already well established when Ann joined the organization in 2009. She believes that Picturehouses nationally, have an autism-friendly screening.

They work in partnership with the Duke of York’s – Amaze has access to families of those on the autistic-spectrum and they are able to communicate to these families about the screenings.

She notes that they are very popular with the parents.

The screenings are not exclusive to children on the autistic spectrum. Ann believes they have been very helpful to children and parents.

Ann describes the differences between autism-friendly screenings and regular screenings – for example, children are not restricted spatially, noise is not objected to, parents are not inhibited by their children’s behaviour. Amaze volunteers are also supplied and man the doors as added security for parents.

Ann: It’s an absolutely wonderful session where children, you know, very often, given the opportunity to just be themselves on that first session, and maybe subsequent sessions as well, and express their anxieties, or excitement. They get used to the activity and very often it will give parents, and the children themselves sometimes, the confidence then to go to the Children’s Club without having to worry about whether their behaviour would be acceptable or appropriate.

Vaska: So it could be a stepping-stone for some?

Ann: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely, yeah. And also I would say as well, and this is important too, that it is a place where, you know, parents can socialize, feel relaxed, get a little bit of respite perhaps from, you know, parents can be very conscious about other parents who might not understand, so it’s a relaxing place to be for parents, and it’s also a place where children can socialize as well.

Vaska: And are the conditions in the cinema altered in any way? Is the lighting changed?

Ann: Yeah, the lighting may be not so dark perhaps as it normally is, so that children, you know, can still see, you know, their parent, or, you know, see what’s going on around them. Yeah, yeah, the lighting is not so low as it normally would be.

Vaska: What about the volume? Would that be changed?

Ann: The volume I’d say is a little lower than you’d anticipate in a mainstream screening, yeah, just because children on the autistic spectrum can be very noise sensitive. They can be light sensitive too, so, you know, they might not want very bright lighting either, so, you know, we’re always aware of those factors. Obviously the motivation is to provide, you know, from the Duke’s point of view and also from our point of view is to provide a session which is as comfortable as possible for the children who come along.

Ann describes how the audience members are predominantly children and their parents. Films are generally Universal or PG certificate to increase accessibility.

Picturehouse chooses the films to be screened and whilst on the whole the films screened have been well chosen, Ann believes that on the odd occasion it may be beneficial for Amaze to have more involvement with the programming.

Ann describes the process of a screening and how a date is decided. There are no strict time-frames. Generally screenings take place every 6 – 8 weeks. She believes it would be beneficial to the parents to have a regular screening.

Screenings are publicised to those on the Compass database predominantly via email, and e-bulletin. The screening may also feature in their newsletter and Ann maintains communication with special schools.

Attendees at each viewing vary between 40 -100 people. Compass card holders pay £2.50 and adults go free. Ticket prices have been negotiated between the Duke of York’s and Amaze.

Ann describes how the reactions to the screenings can sometimes be challenging for children and families. She says that as time passes, it can be incredible to witness how reactions change and how interactions between other children develop.

The social confidence gained through attending a screening can lead to attendance at other events in the city.

For Ann, the Autism-Friendly Screenings have been an inspiration. She believes that for some children they are the beginning of a journey.

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