Going to the movies can be a challenge with a child on the autism spectrum because of all of the sensory input and the need to have what’s called “quiet hands and feet.” The two most important aspects to having a successful experience most are traits that parents already are familiar with: practice and patience.
This is easier said than done most of the time. Here are a few tips and ideas to help make a movie experience more possible with a child on the autism spectrum.
First, begin by getting practice at free movies. United Artists and AMC theaters have free movies throughout the summer, and occasionally during other times of the year. They also have discounted $1.00-1.50 movies in some areas. This is an excellent way to practice since the high price of movie tickets are is not a factor. Sensory-friendly movies are also becoming more common where the lights are kept on, and the sound is kept at a lower level. Check with your local movie theater to see if they already offer (or to suggest they offer) these types of events.If you have a therapist, especially one through school, bring them for a “community outing.” The second set of hands will help you keep your anxiety down. In most cases, if you are receiving behavior or occupational therapy in the home, community-outing days are part of the therapy. You simply need to discuss this with your team. These people know your child often as well as you. If you don’t have this, then your next option is a patient, understanding friend or relative. Someone who your child feels comfortable with who is willing to help you both out.
Snacks can be used as reinforcers and for keeping blood sugar stabilized. Most movie theaters do not have appropriate snacks for children that have to watch their diet or who have food allergies. Even though it is frowned upon by the theater, having a small bag of something the child can actually eat is useful. You can always buy your own drink or snack and then perhaps suggest to the theater to start carrying snacks everyone can enjoy.Don’t forget to bring a fidget toy or quiet sensory toy. Fidget toys area a great addition to your autism arsenal. Fidget toys are often picked by the child, and they may be a toy piece of food, a toy car, or even just something that looks like trash. Your child probably carries one around most of the time. One of the reasons why movies can be so troublesome is because they are anxiety-provoking situations that the child has to sit still through. Movies are usually dark, there are many people around, and they can be very loud.
Some children respond to ear plugs, ear muffs, or noise canceling headphones while others cannot tolerate anything on or near their ears. At least having a koosh ball or other sensory based fidget toy, such as putty, can relieve some stress.
Autism is one big adventure and journey; many parents feel the pain of not being able to do many activities with their child. It can be very sad and frustrating, but trying is the only way to ever make any progress. Always bring your best attitude.
With an autistic child, the work load maybe much greater than with a typical child, but if this one thing can be conquered it can be added to the list of possible activities. That list at some point may have been small, as all lists are when we begin them, but with patience and persistence, it will get longer.