Saturday, June 29, 2013

New to Sensory Friendly Movies? Some tips...

A few months ago, an exciting link began circulating on the interwebs. AMC Theaters are now offering a monthly "Sensory Friendly Film". After poking around I've found some other small chains that offer them as well.

It's about time :)

Sensory-friendly refers to making the theater a safer environment for children who are easily overwhelmed and or just may not enjoy the full on impact of today's films. These movie times are also great for kiddos who can't stay seated or quiet for the duration of a film.

Many theaters have offered "mommy movies" for years - daytime movies with lower volumes and brighter theaters, but generally the films chosen have been adult movies, aimed at the parents of infants. These ones are aimed at children ... and the families that love them.

To paraphrase the nifty info sign I saw in the Burlington, MA AMC theater today, the sound is turned half-way down, the lights are turned halfway up and the quiet rules are thrown out the window.

How stinking cool is that??

My eldest daughter tried desperately hard to enjoy standard movie after standard movie in the theaters ... and ended up becoming increasingly terrified by the sensory overload. Too frightened to even consider going to the movies, my kiddo began to include new movies on our home TV in her fears. She was sad to miss out but frozen by her past experiences.

When I found the AMC Sensory Friendly Film schedule, she was excited ... but still frightened by the choices offered. When I saw the recently released Monsters University would be added to this month's schedule, I suggested that Audrey read the detailed reviews on Common Sense Media. For those not familiar with Common Sense Media, this amazing website reviews movies, websites and video games objectively and includes a space for parental reviews as well. Movie reviews include quantifiable ratings on topics such as violence, consumerism, language and more. Rather than saying "this  movie is scary" a review might say, "there are multiple suspenseful scenes where the character might get eaten", "a parent of a characters dies and we see the character mourn", "characters wave guns and threaten another character with a knife". Common Sense Media is also a great resource for parents and educators ... seriously, take some time to poke around.

My very specific nine-year-old read the review of Monsters University and said, "Mom ... I can handle all this. Let's try it!" And so today we were able to take in our first Sensory Friendly Film.

My kiddo brought a special lovey and knew she could sit on my lap if needed. We also made sure she had a crunchy snack and water - which helps her cope. And my baby had FUN! No flinching, no hiding under the seat or begging to leave ... she didn't even hold my hand, let alone sit on my lap! Best thing? My brave girl wants to do it again!

So here are some tips to help you prepare. Even if your child doesn't need the supports listed below, you might want to prepare them that other children might be using them.

  • Read the movie review on Common Sense Media and - no matter how much YOU want to see the movie - consider realistically how well your child will do. A bad experience will mean that it may be a looooong time before your child is willing to try again.
  • If you are not prepared to spend big bucks on food and water, bring what you need. If you don't want to sneak things in, consider asking your child's doctor or therapist to write a letter supporting your child's need to have a specific food/water bottle/etc to support them while enjoying the movie. Bring extra (translation: we ran out.)
  • Consider bringing support objects - a stuffed animal or blanket, or therapeutic tools. Some things you may consider bringing are noise-blocking headphones, wobble seat cushions, chew toys or vibrating pens and flashlights. If your child benefits from wearing a compression shirt or using a weighted vest or lap pad at school, bring it along. I wouldn't recommend going out to buy those items just for the movies but if they are already helping, bring them along!
  • Prepare the children and other adults in your party for what they can expect. In addition to the lights being raised and the sound being lowered, there may be children there who need to move around or vocalize during the show. Let them know that children may be using the tools mentioned above (or others) and ask them to think about why: "Why do you think would a child need earmuffs? Maybe they don't like loud sounds. What do you think about loud sounds?" This is a great opportunity to discuss how everyone needs certain things to feel comfortable at time. Even grownups have a favorite pillow or coffee cup. 
  • I strongly recommend NOT building up this experience in advance to your child. Before we made it to this movie, my kiddo had seen the schedule and we planned to see Little Mermaid in September. She was beyond the moon. Until Little Mermaid disappeared from the schedule and was replaced by a newer, less-desirable-to-my-child movie. I also found out that not all theaters are alike. A friend tried to bring her son to a different Massachusetts AMC and found it sold out. They luckily were able to go to a regular showing of the movie, but that wouldn't have flown in our case. My friend also mentioned that their theater did not offer online ticketing ... while ours did. 
  • Prepare a back up plan. What will you do if the movie is sold out? If the movie is still too intense? 

    Y'all know my physical abilities are limited. I try hard and stretch past my limits but I can't hike or play tag with my children. I can do THIS. For a special treat, this is something we can all enjoy together now. Me with my invisible differences. My sweet girl with hers.

    **I am in no way connected or receive reimbursement/product/kickbacks/magical powers from any of the companies mentioned here. All products mentioned were purchased by me, generally using standard shipping which I immediately regretted as it takes too flipping long.**