The Boys’ First Trip To The Movies

The LEGO Movie (poster)

A friend on Twitter asked about how people get autistic kids to try new things and specifically how to get them to the movie theater. It just happens that last week we took our boys to the movies for the first time. So I thought I would share our experience. Hope it helps some of you in trying new things with your kids, whether they are on the spectrum or not. :)

We’d been thinking about going to the movies with the kids for awhile, but after my husband and I saw The LEGO Movie, and my parents invited us to go see it again, we decided this would be a good one to try out with them.

Now taking three autistic boys to a movie for the first time did not sound like the greatest idea in the world, so we decided that we would take them one at a time. The challenges we faced were similar for all three boys:

- dislike of loud noises
- fear/dislike of the dark
- inability to sit still for long periods of time
- dislike of new things/experiences
- focus on what normal activities they would be missing if they went to the movie instead
- trouble using ‘inside voices’/being quiet for long periods of time
- dislike of ‘bad things happening’/conflict in movies and TV shows

Based on that list I’m sure you’re wondering why we would ever try to take them to the movies in the first place. I’ll be the first to say I wasn’t 100% positive it would work, but trying new things is an important part of growing up. And with autistic kids it’s important to expose them to new things so they can learn how to cope with the real world.

The first step was deciding whether or not they were ready to face this many issues/fears at once. The best way for us to do that was to have a movie night at home. We picked a movie that was slightly more intense than what we’d watched up to this point, but one that we knew they would like – we picked Labyrinth.

We made popcorn, piled on the couch with all the lights off, and watched the movie. All of them sat very well, were relatively quiet and didn’t seem to mind the dark of the room or the ‘scary’ parts of the movie as long as we were right there to reassure them. The test run was a success!

Over the next week we hyped up the idea of doing a special day for each boy. Each of them would get a day to eat lunch in a restaurant (McDonald’s) with just mommy or daddy. Then we would go to the movie theater buy popcorn AND a bag of candy. Then go in and watch the movie on the big screen!

During the week leading up to the movie trip they all alternated from being excited to not wanting to go, which is very typical for my boys. To tip the scales over to excited, we watched The LEGO Movie trailer a bunch of times and listened to “Everything Is Awesome” (the theme song for the movie) which I’d downloaded onto my iTunes. We also watched a social story about going to the movies on YouTube. By the time it was the day for the first boy to go, he was more excited than nervous.

The trip for each boy was identical, well except for their reactions to the trip (I’ll get to that part in a minute). We went to McDonald’s and got a happy meal which we ate inside “like a real restaurant”. While there we talked about how fun it was going to be to see the movie and if they wanted to get candy or popcorn or BOTH! When we were done we drove to the theater. On the way over, we talked about what the theater would look like, if/what they were nervous about, and how everything would be okay and a lot of fun. :)

How did the boys’ first trip to the movies go?

Well the results were mixed.

Kid #3 (my youngest) went first. His trip actually went the best. He was slightly concerned when it got dark, but adjusted fine once the actually movie started and the previews were over. He had to be reminded a couple times not to talk, but overall he was good. He did get antsy during a couple of the slower parts, but whenever that happened I would give him some Skittles and he would sit contently until the next slow part. Overall he had a great time.

Kid #1 (the oldest twin) was next. He has the most severe/classic autism symptoms (though he is still very high functioning). He LOVED going to McDonald’s and was probably the most excited to see the movie. However, he was also the one who was the most antsy during our home movie night and ended up having the hardest time sitting through the movie at the theater. He decided he was bored about 30 minutes in, but I was able to redirect him enough that we were able to see the whole movie. The candy trick didn’t work as well with him, and he needed to be reminded not to talk a lot more than his brothers. While he did have a good time, the verdict with Kid #1 is that he is not quite ready for a full length movie trip yet.

Kid #2 (the younger twin) was the last to the movie. Even though he is better at sitting and has less symptoms than his twin, he had almost as much trouble as Kid #1. The difference was he was quieter and lasted 45 minutes before getting bored of sitting. Unless it’s something he insists on seeing, we’ll probably wait awhile to bring him to the theater again as well.

What worked well?

The prep leading up to the trip (including the home movie night) helped quell most of their fears of doing something new. Explaining what it would be like and showing them the social story helped get them comfortable with what would happen. Going on a full stomach kept their moods even. And making it a special trip just for them (individually) made them more excited to go and much easier to manage. It definitely would have been harder if the adult to child ratio was not 1:1. It was also helpful that my husband and I had already seen the movie. Then we knew when the slow and scary parts were ahead of time.

What worked okay?

Having a snack to get them through the slower parts of the movie worked to a point. And will mostly likely work better as they get more used to going to the theater. Going at a slow time of day, meant the there were less people in the theater and less people to bother if they started being antsy.

What would we do different next time?

Next time I think I would try to show up as close to the movie starting as possible, maybe even skipping the previews to make the time sitting in the theater shorter overall. Also next time we will try going even earlier in the day. Our theater also has “Sensory Friendly Films” movie showings that we will try out this summer. The lights are left on a bit, the volume is slightly quieter, and it’s okay if the kids have to stand up now and then or if they need to talk some during the movie.

Overall I think getting them to the movies was a good experience. We learned a lot, they had fun, and we now know where the bar is set for each child. Every day is a learning experience and if that experience happens to include popcorn and movie, then all the better. ;)

If you have any questions about our experience at the movies, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Peace of Mind

Soft Landing by hopeimages

A lot has been going on lately. My youngest started his special pre-school after the child study team finally decided to test him, and low and behold he came up autistic. Quelle surprise! We were all sick with a “flu like virus” for a week and half (which I’m pretty sure just means we had the flu). And it has snowed every week since the beginning of the year. In addition to the normal ups and downs of having three special needs kids and keeping up with my editing job, you would think at this point in the year I would be at my wits end. And up until this year you would be right.

But something amazing happened to me in January. Something that was long overdue. I finally went to see a psychiatrist about my anxiety and depression, and he, in his infinite wisdom, put me on anti-depression/anti-anxiety meds…AND THEY WORKED!

They didn’t just work a little either. After three days on half a dose I felt completely different! What does that mean for me? Let me explain.

My whole life there has been this running commentary in the back of my head. Anytime I would have to think over a problem or something would go wrong, my brain would start working out how to fix it and/or how it could be worse or how it was worse or what tragedies would befall me or people I love because of whatever it was I was thinking about. This kept going until a new thing would pop into my head or needed addressing.

I didn’t do it on purpose. I didn’t want it to be happening. But I couldn’t make it stop.

Three days into the meds something amazing happened. My mind was suddenly silent. The running commentary was gone. The constant chatter of a thousand worries had quieted. For the first time in my life, I could sit in peace and think about nothing or (and this is even more amazing) I could think about something, and then I could stop! My worries and cares no longer sat on top of me all day. I could still think about problems I was having or try and work out solutions, but the thoughts no longer haunted me hours later.

The closest comparison I can come up with is imagine you have tinnitus. There is a constant buzzing in your ears 24/7. Now imagine one day…it just stopped. The feeling is incredible.

I never really knew what other people meant when they said “relax” or when people talked about being at peace until now. I thank God my husband kept on me to go and talk to the doctor and that the first thing he prescribed me worked. There is still a lot in my life that needs fixing and organizing, but now I feel like I have the presence of mind to do it.

I am sharing this post because I know there are a lot of people out there who are afraid to go to a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist because of the stigma of mental diseases. I am here to tell you that you have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to gain from getting help. Anxiety and depression can be fixed, sometimes with therapy, sometimes with medication. I lived my whole life not knowing what having a peaceful mind meant and now I do. And I couldn’t be happier. Please, if you think you need help, get help. You are worth it. :)

Title image by hopeimages.

Why I Stopped Teasing My Husband For Liking My Little Pony

My Little Pony

There are a couple things you need to know about my family before I continue this post. Firstly, we are all geeks here, especially in relation to movies and TV. All of our favorites are cartoons and/or contain swords or lasers or both. Both my husband and I grew up as geeks and have been indoctrinating our children it the world of geekery since they were born.

As you may know from some of my other posts we have three young boys, which means at my house we don’t get to watch a lot of “grown-up” TV. Until recently it was mostly Nick Jr. Dora and Diego would compete for attention with SpongeBob and Patrick (my kids still use the word ‘barnacles’ as a curse word). So you can imagine how happy I was when the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon came and not only did my kids like it, but it was also amazing! I took to watching it with them and we recorded it so they could watch it whenever they wanted until the DVDs came out. (If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it now. It one of the best cartoons I’ve seen in years!)

Not once did anyone I know have a problem with me watching a “boy’s show”. I’d grown up with TMNT. It was a given that I would end up watching it with my kids. The fact that I was a girl didn’t come up even once.

Then a month ago, I noticed my boys were spending a lot of time on Saturday mornings, watching Netflix with my husband in his office. I finally decided to go see what they were up to and found them all laughing away at the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Now before I go further I would like to point out that not only did I like My Little Pony as a kid, but I have the video tapes of both the original pilot episode and the My Little Pony movie that went to theaters long, long ago. When my boys were a lot younger, the movie was one of their favorites. They watched it all the time. If you haven’t seen it and are a fan of 80s cartoons you should check it out. (Seriously Danny DeVito and Madeline Kahn are two of the many awesome voice actors.)

Anyway, based on all this what do you think happened when I caught them watching the new series? To my shame, it wasn’t what you think. I believe I said something like, “Oh, you guys are watching that show.” Then I rolled my eyes and walked away.

Over the next couple of weeks, both I and my friends (mostly guys) ragged on my husband about it whenever the show came up. I was okay with my kids watching it. It was a kids’ TV show after all. But the fact that my husband liked the very girly show too was (in our minds) a good reason to pick at him. Being my husband, he would mostly stick his tongue out at us and say something to the effect of, “You don’t know what you’re missing.” or “I can like it if I want to. It’s good!”

Not once did it occur to me that this was something I shouldn’t be doing. After all, it was a “girl” TV show. Boy’s shouldn’t like girl’s TV shows.

Wait. What?

It took me far longer than it should have to have this epiphany, but it suddenly occurred to me a few days ago that if I could watch Ninja Turtles with my kids (and sometimes by myself) why couldn’t my husband like and watch My Little Ponies? Yes there are some extreme portions of the MLP fanbase, but that’s pretty much true of every fanbase these days. And as long as he wasn’t keeping pictures of Twilight Sparkle on his nightstand, what was wrong with him enjoying a well written cartoon with the kids or on his own?

Well, the answer is there isn’t anything wrong with it. I was guilty of making fun of him for the same thing that boys made fun of me for doing as a kid.

“You can’t like Transformers! It’s for boys!”

The hell I can’t! You try and stop me! I can like whatever I want. And if other kids made fun of my boys for liking MLP, I’m sure I would have words with them or their parents as well.

So yesterday I apologized to my husband. And I intend on sharing this with my guy friends so they stop picking on him too. My house is now (as I thought it was before) a bully free zone. Everyone in my family is free enjoy whatever shows, movies, comics, video games, etc. they want.

And that should be true in all aspects of our lives. It’s the different flavors of geeks that make our culture truly awesome. No one has the right to tell someone they shouldn’t like X or that they aren’t liking X the right way. There are enough bullies in the world. We should be supporting each other not knocking each other down.

So next time you get a chance, show some geek love to a group you normally might avoid. Because whether you like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or My Little Pony, always remember geekdom is magic.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Lucky Mom

lucky in love by MarianneLoMonaco

I don’t like to brag, but I am the luckiest mom in the world. I have three beautiful, extremely smart boys who are full of imagination and love. They make me crazy and they are really messy, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Oh and as of yesterday all three of them are officially autistic.

They are all very high functioning autistic, and each of them has slightly different reasons they were classified. The youngest (who was the last to be classified, and falls somewhere in-between the other two) also as ADD and ADHD, something I’m sure none of my family is surprised by.

Does having three autistic boys in the house make life harder? I have no idea. To me, they are just them. They’ve always been who they are. Finding the correct words to describe how they behave and react to things just makes my life a little easier and will hopefully make their lives easier in the future. Now I can tell the school what they need help with and have the help given without arguments. Now I can connect with other parents with children similar to mine and share experiences and help each other. And now I can learn different ways to help my kids succeed that I may not have thought about before.

Would having non-autistic boys be easier? Maybe, but I wouldn’t trade my kids for the world. :)

Title image by MarianneLoMonaco.

Anxiety

Escape of the Dandelions by Ines Perkovic

I have an anxiety problem.

Any of you who know me personally would probably laugh if I said that to you in person, and then go, “Duh!” afterwards. With good reason. It’s blatantly obvious that I worry and stress about almost everything too much. And for a long time I’ve known that too and laughed right along with everyone else. This year changed all that.

In the fall of 2012 my twins started school and were both diagnosed with autism. In January my husband was diagnosed with bipolar II. And currently we are getting our youngest tested for autism and ADHD. Somewhere in the midst of all this I started having panic attacks again.

Yes I said again. Yes it had happened before. But back then (before I had kids) it hadn’t been that bad or very frequent. I was able to handle the stress, anxiety, and even infrequent panic attacks and still carry on with my life. I thought I was fine, just a little stressed.

But now they aren’t that infrequent. Earlier this year I was having one or two panic attacks a week. I stopped watching action movies because when my pulse went up, I started to worry it was going to shift into a panic attack.

That’s not a fun place to be. But it is what finally opened my eyes to how bad I really was, even before the panic attacks resurfaced. My anxiety was inhibiting every aspect of my life. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t concentrate like I wanted to. I wasn’t getting all the things done I needed to get done. I wasn’t enjoying any of the things I was doing and the inability to accomplish anything was making me depressed, again.

Yes I said again, again.

Unbeknownst to me, after I gave birth to my twins I had a pretty bad bought of postpartum depression. I got through it without knowing I had it. I went through the next pregnancy without knowing I had it. It wasn’t until I was home from delivering my youngest, two years after my twins, that I realized the difference: I could function. I could sleep. I wasn’t crying all the time. I wasn’t sitting on the couch starting at the TV all day. The difference between having postpartum depression and not having postpartum depression was night and day.

But what is happening now has nothing to do with pregnancy. My anxiety is making me depressed and I am cycling through periods of depression and high stress. Well perhaps cycling isn’t the right word. Spiraling is a better one. And it was getting a lot worse.

Before this year I thought I could handle it. I thought I was fine. I thought I just needed to relax because I was too stressed. The truth is that I have an anxiety disorder and mild depression and I need help to fix that. Watching my husband go through a similar thing this winter with his bipolar, and seeing how much counseling and medication helped him, made up my mind for me.

I’ve now been in therapy for anxiety for a few months. It’s very early on and we are taking baby steps towards fixing what’s broken in my head. I’m thinking more carefully about things that stress me out and pinpointing why they stress me out, which helps me to not be anxious about them in the first place.

I’m learning to prioritize things. And in doings so, I’m making sure that taking care of myself is one of the things I’m prioritizing. I’m also trying to cut myself some slack and making sure that if something on my to-do list slips I don’t beat myself up about it. We are also looking at my depression to see if it follows a pattern and if medication might help or not.

Trying to unwrap the way my brain thinks is going to take time, and working on being less anxious is going to be hard. Be with the support of my family and friends I know I can do it.

So why am I telling you this?

This is not a pity party. This is not a post to excuse why I’ve been floating at the edges of social media for the past year or so. This is my story I’m sharing to hopefully help other people who might have the same problem. Being permanently stressed out and anxious is not something you have to live with, it’s something that can be overcome.

And yes, initially getting anxiety therapy made me anxious. But now, it’s making me feel better. And the same can be true for you. Fighting anxiety and depression is hard, maybe even harder than just having the problems in the first place. But in the end, peace of mind is something worth fighting for.

Title image by Ines Perkovic.

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