Last week we were visiting family in Florida, but the timing coincided with something I planned on doing one last time before leaving the country: attending a sensory showing. Here in the US*, AMC theatres provide a monthly sensory showing of a film for those on the spectrum and their friends and families. It. Is. Awesome. The normal rules of the cinematic experience are suspended. You are free to move around and talk, bring your own allergy-free snacks, and the volume is lowered and a light kept on. Instead of the usual commercials and trailers, the film begins right away. They even put a special price on tickets, so a family living here outside expensive Washington D.C. pays the same amount as those living in more affordable parts of the US.
The downside to the sensory showing being only once a month, and catering to the entire population (not just children) meant that the two films Pudding would most have enjoyed were not sensory showings. We went to see The Princess and The Frog anyway at a regular showing. We deliberately waited until it has been out for a couple of weeks, and went to a Sunday morning screening where there would be other kids. Pudding enjoyed much of it, but the sounds was a little loud, and some scenes were scary. She needed to make a couple of trips to the bathroom.
Towards the end she was a little overwhelmed, and I gave her my iPod (volume off) to distract her. A woman sitting behind us quickly told us it was distracting her, and asked us to switch it off. I wanted to tell the woman how well she was doing, that she just didn’t know what distracting was, but she’d soon find out. But the normal rules applied there, so I did as she asked, fully expecting a meltdown. But Pudding coped, she just asked to leave again. Her Daddy took her for another walk and they returned for the final scene. I was soured by the experience, and when Tangled came out and we found it was not the sensory showing that month, we decided to wait until it came out on DVD.
Finally Toy Story 3 hit the cinema and it was a sensory showing, and we had no other plans that day. I don’t recall a time when we have felt so welcomed as a family. There was a real sense of community, and I knew no matter what my kids did, we would be accepted and respected. There are few times we’ve been out in public when I could say that. Pudding really only identifies with female characters (read princesses and fairies) and Toy Story 3 became a bit overwhelming for her, so that time we took advantage of being able to wander around safe in the knowledge that we weren’t bothering anyone. A child behind us began the film by reciting every line after it was spoken. His parents soon urged him to stop, but it didn’t annoy me in the least; rather it cemented the fact that we were with those who understood. Pudding had just started in her preschool autism class, and a classmate found her and cupped her face and spelled put her name. I didn’t know she knew him (though I guessed), but marveled at how relaxed she seemed with somebody touching her. I wonder if she was so calm because we were, because the normal rules that are so constraining for her just didn’t apply that day.
Our family already had plans the day of the sensory showing of Cars 2, but I persuaded them to join us for it. Cars 2 definitely isn’t a Pudding kind of film, and it also went over Cubby’s head, but just being free to move around, play in the iPad, and speak is a freedom that they enjoyed, and so did we. All the cousins got to enjoy the movie together. Though we were away from home, it was still touching to see moviegoers hugging each other at the end. That sense of community and belonging is a real gift.
Thank you to The Autism Society and AMC for making these accommodations and giving my children such enjoyment, and making us all feel like we belong.
*UK readers click here for information about an autism-friendly screening.