Tag Archives: autism

“Autism-friendly” movies screen monthly at Canyon Meadows

What makes a movie “autism friendly”? To find out, we headed to Canyon Meadows Cinemas this past Saturday to watch the animated children’s movie The Nut Job.

The Nut Job is just an okay movie (Bennett much preferred Frozen), but "autism friendly" is more about the theatre environment than the show itself.

The Nut Job is just an okay movie (Bennett much preferred Frozen), but “autism friendly” is more about the theatre environment than the show itself.

Calgary’s cheap seats theatre has committed to showing one children’s movie a month in an environment that turns the notion of “blockbuster” on its head. Instead of showing a 3-D movie in a pitch-dark theatre with loud surround-sound — and expecting tots to stay glued to their seat for two hours — the cinema screens a show inside a theatre with an autism-friendly ambiance. What does that mean? This:

  • Lights are at medium-low level (dim);
  • Sound volume is low (not loud and startling);
  • Tickets can be purchased in advance at the theatre for patrons who don’t want to wait in line;
  • There isn’t 20 minute’s worth of ads and trailers at the beginning of the film (hooray!);
  • Patrons are encouraged to make noise or move around (under supervision) if they wish.

I admit I have avoided taking Bennett, my six-year-old autistic son, to the movies for years — the kid has only seen three movies in a movie theatre in his life! I stayed away because I worried he would freak out about something in the film, throw a tantrum over spilled popcorn or demand we leave half way through the show. The fact that Canyon Meadows creates an environment once a month that makes it okay for Bennett to do all these things, is awesome. No more worrying about being judged (that I’m a bad parent, or that my son is misbehaving) because the other parents in attendance get it.

Bennett enjoys popcorn before The Nut Job at Canyon Meadows Cinemas.

Bennett enjoys popcorn before The Nut Job at Canyon Meadows Cinemas.

As it turned out, Bennett didn’t take advantage of the autism-friendly perks. He ate his popcorn and sat in his chair for the movie’s duration, with nary a word of protest. Other children walked around in the front of the theatre, made noises, occasionally cried. But it wasn’t a big deal because we understood. And, if Bennett had wanted to leave half way through the movie it wouldn’t have been a big deal, either — tickets cost just $5. It’s great Canyon Meadows is doing this regularly. Keep it up!

 

The road ahead

As I sat in one of the Adirondack chairs at  Nellie Breen Park this past weekend, cold beer in hand (civilized, right? And thanks again fellow Inglewoodian who shall remain nameless), watching my children play completely unassisted while I chatted with neighbourhood moms and dads, a thought occurred to me: I have arrived!

It was the first time I was able to actually relax at the park, without worrying about Bennett falling from the top of the slide platform, or him needing my help navigating across the boulders by the gazebo or balancing on the spinning ring apparatus. Meanwhile, Avery played with a gaggle of her girlfriends; occasionally Bennett would chase them down and they would run off screaming. For two hours this went on and I think I stirred from my chair maybe four times. It was liberating.

I love this adapted bike from Renfrew -- makes it a lot easier to learn to ride. At Nellie Breen park in Inglewood.

Gotta love this adapted bike from Renfrew — makes it a lot easier to learn to ride. At Nellie Breen Park in Inglewood.

Bennett and I returned to Nellie Breen on Tuesday morning with his physical therapist, who brought along an adapted bicycle for Bennett to ride. Apart from his habit of looking in every direction except straight ahead (and thus veering off-road), he did great. She’s thrilled with his progress this year and can’t believe all the things he can do by himself (I’m a proud mama). The fact that he’s five and just learning how to ride a bike is a non-issue — I’m happy he’ll even try. And I’m ecstatic that he wants to climb on everything. Hooray!

After my story in Swerve came out last week I was inundated with supportive e-mails from family, friends and strangers. Some people shared their own stories and struggles with me; everyone wrote words of encouragement. My sister-in-law, a social worker, wrote this:

“I ran a support group for a couple of years for parents dealing with “ambiguous loss” (as I called it); mostly those who adopted children and later found out they had FASD and were mourning the “loss” of their dreams/expectations of that child’s future. Very hard. We talked a lot about how the child may be completely happy in their future world they and their parents created for them, but it was the parents who had to change their expectations of what the child’s future “should” look like, as “normal” may not be the reality for them or make them happy. However, “normal” is different for everyone (and usually only an illusion anyways)… Whatever works the best for the child to reach his full  potential in life is all we can hope for. They are all  so different, and I’ve heard of so many “hopeless” cases that have turned out fabulously with futures with jobs, great homes, even marriages and children. So never lose hope.”

I love her perspective, and found it fitting that one of my mom friends whose daughter also has autism, chose to share this inspirational e-card yesterday:

We're travelling a different path, adapted bicycles and all, and I'm choosing to embrace it.

We’re travelling a different path, adapted bicycles and all, and I’m choosing to embrace it.

The road ahead looks clear — if different than I dreamed it would be — and, hopefully, easier to navigate than it’s ever been.