He settles down in his seat, seemingly not at all phased by an “old school” theater chair that doesn’t recline. I quickly pass him his popcorn and a juice box, and we get comfortable as we wait for “Frozen Two” to start. All around us is a bit of chaos- a cacophony of sounds, words and mobile children darting from row to row. I smile knowing that Justin is at home here- his loud vocal stims will not be frowned upon, will be more than tolerated. I know in my heart he’ll last through this movie, and it’s a beautiful thing.
You see, we’re at the sensory friendly showing at AMC Loew’s Seacourt 10 Theater in Toms River hosted by New Jersey Autism Warriors (NJAW) for the first time, and what I hope won’t be our last.
My son Justin is sixteen and severely autistic. For years just getting him out of our house was a struggle, much less getting him to enjoy events. After many years of searching we found that one of the few activities he enjoyed was going to the movies, and he was generally well-behaved there. He loved the films and truly adored the buttery popcorn, and I was thrilled that there was something we could all do together as a family since his brother was four years younger than him.
Flash forward many years, and my almost-teen is eschewing “Pixar movies,” and my son’s deep guttural vocal stims are precluding him from movie-going with a general audience.
Justin’s vocal stim used to be an occasional “eeee”, but now that he’s approaching manhood every sound is octaves lower and really loud, and he seems to enjoy regaling us with them frequently. The last few times we’ve gone to the cinema he’s been really vocal, to the point where I’m focusing on keeping him quiet rather than watching the movie, and really, that’s not supposed to be the point.
Truth be told, I love these shows too.
In an effort not to close him out of one of the few activities he loves, I did a little research, and found out that New Jersey Autism Warriors (NJAW) who partner with Parents of Autistic Children (POAC) offer frequent sensory showings at the AMC Loews Seacourt Ten Cinema in Toms River, NJ. You can find their listings on the POAC website at www.poac.net under the events tab. You have to sign up with NJAW on their Facebook page, and then it’s important that you RSVP how many tickets you want on their Facebook page so they know how many theaters to reserve.
I’m never really sure how something will go with Justin until we try it, but he didn’t seem fazed by the noises around him, and watched the whole movie in its entirety. When he realized it was a “Frozen movie” I even got a rare smile out of him, and I knew I’d made the right decision to take him.
Justin’s world has narrowed greatly as he’s grown older. We used to be able to take him to many POAC events, but as he grew he generally stopped participating in the activities and just wanted to eat their pizza. Eventually my other son wanted to stop attending as well, so we put those events on the shelf. This never quelled my desire to get my boy out and about in the world, as the reality is the rest of his life either myself or his caregivers will have to take him places, so the more exposure he gets to the real world, the better.
I am so grateful we no longer have to relegate the movies to the past.
I did a little research, and there is also a sensory showing at the Marquis Theater Orchard Ten on Route 37 in Toms River, the second Saturday of the month at 11:00. I can’t speak to how that one is run since we haven’t been there yet, but I’m hoping to check it out in the future as well.
This turned out to be a great experience for me and Justin, and I highly recommend you give it a try. Your child can make noise, bring in his own food (please don’t flaunt it outside of the actual theater), and even run around. Truly, anything flies. It is such a gift to be among my “tribe,” to know there is a place where Justin is accepted and encouraged to be.
And that my friends, is priceless indeed.
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