Today my family and I attended a Sensory Friendly Screening of the latest Earth Day documentary from Disney films. Sensory screenings are great. They create a safe place for families with kids with disabilities to attend a movie. The lights are dimmed. Instead of being pitch black. The sound is turned down, just enough to not hurt sensitive ears. The movie is shown early in the morning before the theater opens so there are little to no crowds. It gives parents a space to teach their kids how to watch a movie in a place where no one will shush them or give them a hard time. We have been to about three of these now and they are great.
My family and I like to walk and sit all the way at the top. McKade, the Dude, has a big bucket of popcorn and a coke. Addison, my oldest, brought a purse today with snacks inside that she packed on her own. We all had a seat and they really did a great job inside the theater today.. The only “non typical” things you could point out would be Addy watching Blues Clues on her iPad. She has learned to turn the sound all the way down in public. McKade was a little bouncy but that was it. I was super proud and grateful for how well they were doing.
My kids are some of the oldest there most weekends. Addison is fourteen and McKade is thirteen. It has taken years to get where we could come to a place like this and get through the movie with little to no meltdowns or incidents. My attention during the movies often goes to the young families and their kids. I see myself in those parents nervously chasing the kids up and down the aisles, trying hard to shush little voices, or staring exhausted at the ceiling for the few seconds they were able to sit down. They were at the beginning of a journey I had been on for many years.
I stopped and looked at my two kids sitting there watching the movie and for a split second I thought, “Wow, all those autism books were right. It does get easier as they get older.” Then someone somewhere looked down at me and said, “Aww sweetie, NO.”
My epiphany of gratitude would have to wait. McKade needed a popcorn refill and bathroom break. We made our way quickly to the restroom. He went first, then my turn. I asked him to hold the popcorn bucket while I went. I turned my back for one second. When I turned back around, the only thing in the restroom was our popcorn bucket. The dude was gone! I ran out of the restroom and looked left, right, back, forth and he was no where to be found! Luckily, the theater wasn’t open. My kids, and some others with autism, won’t always answer when you call there name. You could yell at the top of your lungs and not get a response. Instead of freaking out I get really still. I stood there closed my eyes and had a Jedi like moment. I listened and listened really hard. I heard a vacuum off in the distance, an ice machine dropping ice, and then a slight tiny hahahaha to my left.
I ran into an empty theater of the Fast and the Furious 8, and there was the dude sitting in the top of the theater with his popcorn. We went and refilled the popcorn bucket and joined my wife and his sister back in the theater.
Autism books I read always said things would get easier as they get older. I don’t think that’s always true. My kiddos weren’t running up and down the aisles, yelling or having a meltdowns anymore . But in the blink of an eye, my son disappeared in a large strange public place. Things don’t get easier. We, as parents, get better and stronger with each hurdle or obstacle that comes at us. No matter what comes at you, keep on truckin.
Thank you to the Jackson Autism Center and Malco Theaters for arranging the sensory friendly films.
May the Force Be With You,