Josh has seen exactly three movies in a theatre in his life. The first time was about 2 years ago when we saw The Muppets. We brought an extra adult with us and we armed ourselves with a very expensive amount of popcorn and other snacks. Still, Josh was overwhelmed and melted down. Alex had to take him out to the lobby and even go for a long walk in the parking lot, missing most of the movie.
The second time was about 6 months ago when I took the girls, Josh, and a trained autism therapist to a viewing of the movie Planes. Our local theatre hosts monthly "sensory friendly" viewings of films where the auditoriums have their lights up, the sound turned down and audience members are invited to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing. It felt like a big risk to try it again but, what the heck, we live in America and kids in America go see movies. Alex and I love movies and wouldn't it be great to be able to go to them with our whole family sometime? I really wanted to try it again. It felt like we were "in training" for Josh to be able to gain the sensory muscles to go see a movie.
Shockingly, it was a great success. Josh not only sat through the entire film but he was happy and "sang" along and clapped at various times as well. He ate a huge bag of popcorn during the show but that was fine with me. He actually was more calm than his two sisters, who sat on either side of me, gripping one of my arms with ferocious desperation and breaking down into sobs because of the intensity of the surround sound music and some of the tension points of the story. They pulled it together well afterwards and now they claim that they loved Planes and talk about it fondly, as if seeing it had been a wholly pleasant experience for them.
My girls really wanted to see the new Disney movie, Frozen, during this holiday break. At first, I planned to leave Josh at home with his dad, not wanting to deal with the energy that it takes to plan to attend something with Josh. But at the last minute, we decided to just go for it and see it as a whole family. My niece and my mom came with us so I felt fortified in terms of adult resources in case anything went wrong.
At first, Josh was clearly anxious. He did not want to go in and, once we sat down, held my hand tightly as if he was afraid that I might leave him alone in the dark theatre. But once the movie started, Josh started to relax. He clearly enjoyed the musical numbers within the film (there were many). He started to smile and giggle and remained relaxed through out the entire show. He vocalized and clapped a little bit but was willing to quiet down quickly at my whispered encouragements. I also handed him a tangerine every time he started talking and he was happily distracted. Strangely, he declined to have any popcorn today. At the end, he didn't want to leave until the credits (and music that accompanied the credits) were over.
My son has come so far in his abilities to manage sensory input. As a younger child, the world seemed to be a place full of auditory and visual threats. Josh succumbed to panic, tantrums, and melt downs so much more than he does now. I am so proud of him and I want the world to know that Josh is maturing, even within his own autistic world. It seems odd to call "going to the movies" a risk but, for us, it is. And if we had never taken this risk today, we would never know how Josh is growing up into a guy who can handle so much more than I ever imagined.