Sunday, April 20, 2014

Autism Understanding & Acceptance 2014 Day 21: "Sensory Friendly" opportunities

You may have seen me check in at a "sensory friendly" showing of a children's movie recently.  The Autism Society of America and AMC Theaters have partnered for several years to provide this wonderful opportunity for our loves ones on the autism spectrum.  This has been the only way we have been able to take T to a movie in a movie theater his entire life!  It is fun and satisfying to be able to do something that is so normal, so everyday for other families: going to a movie theater, getting popcorn, sitting through a film - we try to go every chance we get.

What makes them sensory friendly and why would that matter?  The lights are not turned down all the way, and the sound is not turned up as loudly as it usually is.  Also, (and this is key for us) their "Silence is Golden" policy is NOT enforced.  Guests may vocalize, get up & walk around, dance in front of the enormous screen - whatever their hearts desire and their bodies tell them to do!  So for our boy, who is happily vocal almost every waking moment of every day, this is a perfect opportunity to go to the movies.  We simply could not go to a regular showing - he just makes too much noise!  And then there is the inappropriate laughing too - sometimes if a scene is getting intense, he'll laugh even if it is a sad moment.  Probably wouldn't go over too well with a typical audience!  And I just don't want to risk the looks or comments, so we stick to the sensory friendly showing of movies, and have a terrific time. 

Increasingly, more performing arts and cultural events are offering autism-friendly or sensory-friendly opportunities to take part in their events.  A local Smithsonian historical outdoor museum, Connor Prairie, has Autism Quiet Zones throughout their park where a person who is overwhelmed can take a break.  These areas are quiet staff rooms or just an unused room where they've put a box with a blanket & fidget toys, and a family can go in there to regroup and stay as long as they need.  I have read that Broadway is offering sensory friendly musical performances (oh how I would LOVE to take T to one of those!!!)  And more sports facilities in our area are offering adapted programs such as adapted Yoga, martial arts, ice skating, etc!  

Is this necessary?  Well...I'll give you an example.  We needed the program at Connor Prairie -  and used it - a few years ago during their "Glorious Fourth" celebration.  There was a gathering outside where the Declaration of Independence was read and flags were waved which was all great fun...until they said "Let's sing the Star Spangled Banner" and everyone started singing.  Yeah, unexpected singing, the bane of our existence.  Thomas started crying and SCREAMING, completely terrified and angry and he was just undone.  We made as quick an exit as possible and found a staff person approaching us, who blessedly had a concerned but friendly expression and said "How can I help?", to which I said "Take us to the closest Autism Quiet Zone!"  We were there within moments, she showed us the box of toys & blankets, told us to stay as long as we needed, and left us to reboot.  15 minutes later, we were back walking the outdoor museum, all of us happy as clams and thankful for that Quiet Zone.  Without it, we probably would have had to leave for the day.      

So these adaptations, these "sensory friendly" opportunities, really open up so much more of the world for T.  

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