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.