This morning we had our first experience of an autism friendly cinema screening. We didn’t even realised these existed until recently. Dimensions hold them on the first Sunday of the month at various locations across the country.
We watched Monsters University which is as good as the original and as a family we enjoyed the chance to all watch the film together. Our oldest two children have been to the cinema before and our daughter with ASD has always coped with the experience of watching a film, but finds queuing for tickets, snacks and all the adverts before a film more problematic than other children. All of these things can be hard concepts for people with ASD to comprehend as they tend to want everything to happen now.
Today was the first time our youngest son has been to the cinema. We prepared him with a social story adapted from a template on the Dimensions website. It included a picture of the cinema we went to, picture of where you queue for snacks etc and a short blurb on the film we were going to watch. To help with his concentration and sensory processing difficulties, he took his wobble cushion to sit on.
As the film is shown on a Sunday morning, it is quiet in the cinema and there were no queues for tickets and only a couple of people in front of us for snacks. Once we were in the screen, we noticed that the lighting is not as dark as normal and the film didn't appear to have surround sound. You are able to take your own snacks to suit your child's needs and they use a smaller screen so it is not too overwhelming in size. There are no long adverts before the film either. What we hadn’t bargained for is that our son who is small for his age wasn't heavy enough to be able to sit on a seat without it flipping up to close. He chose to sit on my lap, stand up in the aisle or grab hold of the chair in front. An autism friendly screening allows people with ASD to have the flexibility to watch a film to suit their needs without disturbing others as everyone there understands e.g. they can rock in their chair, walk about, be vocal and no one will make any comments on their behaviour.
As soon as the film had finished and we went outside, there was an instant change in our son’s demeanour. After being in a cocoon where he felt safe, the world suddenly became too noisy and bewildering for him. He began to go into a meltdown and panicked that people were staring at him. He has spent a couple of hours at home de-stressing himself – he tends to go into what we call ‘baby mode’ where he babbles away to himself, whilst he kicks his legs up in the air. This calms him and he is now happily watching ‘Monsters Inc’ on DVD. It looks as if there will be a ‘Monsters’ theme for the rest of the day, as if he’s not watching it, he is roaring as loud as Sully to scare us! It seems to have been a successful outing and one we will do again.