For parents of autistic children, doing something as simple as taking a child to a movie - an activity the rest of us take for granted - can be a very important, and very rare, opportunity.

These parents are used to people disapproving of their children's behavior and not understanding that restlessness, repetitive motions or outbursts are symptoms of autism.

So a movie theater offering special screenings for autistic children - as the Tilton 8 & IMAX theater in Northfield does once or twice a month - may seem like a small thing. But to those children's families, it is a big deal.

As Shannon Costal, whose 6-year-old son, Finn, has autism, told Press staff writer Wallace McKelvey, "People with kids on the spectrum just don't go out. This is something special."

The autism spectrum is an umbrella term for a group of brain-development disorders. The number of children diagnosed with some form of autism has soared in recent years as disorders of differing severity, from those that cause significant disability to the milder Asperger's syndrome, are included under that umbrella. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study said New Jersey's rate of autism, 1 in 49 children, was the second-highest in the country.

At the Tilton 8 screenings, the theater's management goes so far as to adjust audio and light levels because many autistic children are sensitive to light and sound. The screenings have also drawn families whose children have other developmental disorders and feel more comfortable in this atmosphere.

Other area businesses, including Jester's Playhouse in Northfield, Fro Me a Party in Egg Harbor Township and Gillian's Wonderland Pier in Ocean City have hosted either regular or special events for autistic children.

Isabella Mosca, executive director of the local advocacy group Faces 4 Autism, said she hopes more businesses will realize that parents of autistic children have money to spend and are eager to support businesses that welcome them.

We're sure that's true and that it may make good sense financially for these businesses to be so welcoming to families dealing with autism.

But we're also sure that financial incentives don't fully explain the efforts to make autistic children and their parents feel welcome. This may be good business, but it is also an example of businesses doing good.

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