6. Interviews - Audiences

Contact a Family 15th Anniversary event at Chapter, Cardiff. Image © Noel Dacey
Contact a Family 15th Anniversary event at Chapter, Cardiff. Image © Noel Dacey

Interviews were conducted with ten families at three Contact A Family screenings around Wales. An additional two interviews were conducted over the phone. The main focus of these interviews was about what they particularly liked about the Contact A Family Screenings, and about the issues that they face when going to the cinema.

Other people don’t mind

The most common recurring comment was the fact that parents felt relaxed at the CaF screenings, because they knew that they were among other families who were having the same experiences. This gave them the feeling that everybody was equal, and their family wasn’t being judged by anybody.

“In the cinema, you’ve got so many people behind you, you just don’t want to make a noise, but in the CaF ones, everybody’s on the same level and they can come in and out whenever they want to, make a little noise if they have to and really get into the film…If the parents are a bit more relaxed, they (the children) are more relaxed as well”

“we know that if she wants to have a chat, if she wants to get up and move around, no-one’s going to judge.”

“We’re all in the same boat. Nobody’s going to judge, just in case their kid goes off on one”

“From mum’s point of view, we’re not worrying. Because we know that she (daughter) wants to have a chat, if she wants to get up and move around, no-one’s going to judge.”

“Every child in here, I bet they’ve been to the cinema and caused havoc, when they’re expected to sit and be quiet.”

Several of them commented that their children had stayed longer at the screening they attended than they had done at any other screenings in the past. 

Having helpful staff

This feeling of not being judged was helped by the welcome that they received when they arrived at the venue, and the ongoing accommodating and supportive environment. This was in part due to the participatory approach employed by CaF, but also by having visible, and visibly helpful venue staff.

“The staff are very helpful, always on hand if you need anything”

“I thought it was really nice when Richard (CaF staff member) was explaining that the children could talk if they wanted to, or run around, because they were having trouble keeping still.”

This friendly and approachable manner demonstrated by the staff, distinguishes the CaF events held in small independent venues from the Autism Friendly screenings held in the larger chain cinemas, where such an approach is sometimes not found:

“That makes a difference as well. I’ve left (a local chain cinema) with (my son) kicking and screaming, and they don’t even go “is everything okay?” or “do you need a hand?” Even just asking, it does make a massive difference.”

The screening environment

According to the parents, the ‘autism friendly’ element of the screenings was a contributing factor to their children’s enjoyment of the event. Although parents mentioned different elements of the sensory environment (which is consistent with that fact that different individuals with autism are affected in different ways) it was clear that altering the screening environment had an effect on their children, which in turn made the parents more relaxed.

“When we go to the cinema, it’s the noise, it’s a bit too loud”

“The light is the main thing, because she will not go in if it’s dark”

“It’s not as crowded in there, there’s more room generally.”

“I think if it was completely packed, it would be hard. He (son) doesn’t like crowded spaces”

“It was lighter than normal, not as loud as normal, so I thought it was really nice”

Going as a family

One of the main principles of the work that CaF does is to encourage families to attend events as a group. This was something that the families attending the screening events appreciated.

One particular family had a non-disabled daughter, as well as a son with physical impairments, and they found that they were not able to go to the cinema as often as they would like, partly because their local cinema was difficult to get to, with unsuitable parking, but also because they were unable to sit together:

“The problem is that the only times when we can go is when the kids are off, and it’s extremely busy”

They were able to come to the CaF screenings because there were fewer people there, and they were all able to sit together.  

Another family had one son on the autism spectrum and two daughters without a disability, and they have had difficulty in the past going to the cinema as a family. The high cost of having to buy five cinema tickets, and the logistics involved in organizing the trip makes it frustrating when their son’s behaviour spoils the enjoyment of the film for the rest of the family, as well as other audience members:

“We’ve gone to (local chain cinema) before, five of us. It’s cost £40 for us to get in there, and I’ve ended up having to leave because of the disruption. He was stuck to the chair one day, we couldn’t move him, and screamed for 40 minutes of the film. Short of refunding everybody’s money I was, like ‘what do I do about this?’”

Often, a solution has been to split the family for cinema visits:

“the girls would go with their dad and I’d go with him (the son). We’d go in separate cars; we’d sit in separate parts of the cinema. We completely became separated because of [his] condition. And it shouldn’t be that way.”


The addition of food was a big draw, with many families staying after the screenings to eat. This time gives the families the opportunity to socialise with other families, and makes the screening more of a social event:

“We didn’t expect food until we got the text a couple of days ago. It was a nice extra.”