Tomorrow I am taking my daughter to go see Toy Story 3. She has seen it already with her grandparents, but she keeps saying that it is soooo good that I must go watch it with her; so I will. For her and I the loud volume, dark room, and any other extreme sensory experience is just part of the fun of going to the cinema. But for many children out there who have have special needs including sensory processing disorder (SPD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) the whole "sensory experience" is not so fun. That is why I think it is great that AMC entertainment has at selected theaters at least once a month "sensory friendly films":
Some people aren't lucky enough to live in one of the locations of these theaters. So if this is the case, what are some things that can be done to make the movie experience not only tolerable, but fun? I think for the older kids, you could visit the theater at a time when no shows are playing so they can get used to the room- that is if they've never been before. For any child three years of age or older, you could write a social story about the whole movie experience to let them know what to expect; predictability helps to lessen anxiety which in turn lessens sensory defensiveness. If you aren't familiar with social stories, look it up, the idea was created by Carol Gray. Just remember to make the story positive and personal.
For the children with auditory defensiveness, try to sit in an area of the theater where no one else is sitting so that the noise made by other people is not bothersome; this may require going at an unpopular time such as in the morning. Also, ear muffs or ear plugs may dampen the sound. If the child becomes over-whelmed there is no shame in leaving, maybe come back another time and try again. For some kids it may take multiple attempts before they can sit through the entire movie.
For kids on special diets, check with the staff ahead of time and bring snacks they can have on their special diet which they tend to find comforting. Of course, I am reading some people's minds and thinking that you will just sneak those snacks in your purse!
Have any other ideas that have worked for you? I would love to hear about them.