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Going to the movies with an Autistic or sensory sensitive child

Going to the movies as a parent is one of my favorite things to do, but it looks different than it does for most families.

My love of movies began sitting in the cab of my dad's pickup truck at the drive-in on top of a phone book so I could see over the dash. We'd visit the snack bar and get a soda and popcorn. We'd sit together where I could talk and ask questions, have my dad turn down the volume to accommodate my sensory issues, and just be enjoying each other's company without any demands.

I still love the drive-in, but they are few and require attending after dark, which can be an issue in maintaining a sleep schedule.

After a big break in movie theaters during the height of COVID, we recently went to see our first movie. Having a successful trip to the theater requires some planning and managing my own expectations as well as those of any others that attend with us. Having just one child makes this aspect easier.

Most importantly, accept that you will probably leave early--maybe really early. Once you are comfortable with the idea that you are going to get an extended preview of the film and see the rest much later, there's no pressure. This is about having fun in the moment, practicing going to the movies, and the ever-important lesson of "you can leave whenever you need to, and I support you (every time!)."

Don't forget to bring ear protection! Theaters are loud to be immersive, for those with sensitive ears, it can be unbearable. Ear defenders reduce sound, but don't block it completely. Loop or other similar ear plugs also work. This is more a question of comfort.

Next, plan to show up about 15 minutes after the scheduled start time, which allows you to skip the previews and maximize the time in the actual movie. Previews can be extra dramatic and depleting so best to save energy for the movie itself.

Most theaters now offer you the opportunity to pick your seats when you buy tickets. This will allow you to choose seats that are away from other patrons and back from the screen. Sitting near others can be distracting and nerve-wracking. No one want to disturb other movie goers or be disturbed by them. Having a space buffer increases comfort.

If you live in a more populated area, you may have access to sensory-friendly showings and/or shows with closed captioning. Both of these options can increase comfort and the amount of time a child (or an adult!) can stay!

I hope you and your loved ones get out and enjoy the show--don't forget the popcorn.

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