Sensory-Friendly Activities at the Movies & Mall

Marj Hatzell
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kid with 3d glasses
Ready for his first 3D movie
You wanna know what's awesome sauce in the land of special needs? Even if you don't, I'm going to tell you anyway because I'm nice like that.

One of the reasons we avoid movie theaters like the plague is this: the two times we've taken our older son to a movie theater, he has climbed under the seat because it was too over-stimulating, clapped his hands over his ears, and cried because it was too loud and kept thinking people were laughing. At HIM. Needless to say, going to the movies is not an enjoyable experience for any of us (or the people around us, I imagine). And I have a little confession to make. Ahem. I also do not like going to theaters because they are overstimulating, too loud, and the smell of popcorn is enough to make me vomit. So guess what? We end up staying home. Sensory problems much?

But the cool part! I'm getting there, I promise. Theaters now schedule sensory-friendly movie times. That's right, they finally realized that they could dim the lights but not turn them off, make the sound a little lower, and let families bring food from home to address dietary issues and PEOPLE WILL BRING THEIR SPECIAL KIDS. YUP! No one will complain if your kid is clapping and humming, no one cares if they wander a bit during the film. Thanks to AMC theaters and the Autism Society, they now schedule these special viewing times on a regular basis in my area. And while it is cheaper to stay home and we can control the environment there much better, the fact that the theaters are willing to accommodate our kids totally rocks. My kid can finally go to a movie theater and enjoy it.

But better yet? Places of worship are finally getting the hint and providing special services for folks with disabilities (churches and synagogues in my area have special deaf services weekly). Malls are setting up special times with Santa with shorter lines, quieter atmosphere, and lower lights so it is less stimulating for kids who have these needs. I can't tell you how awesome this is because we've been to several churches looking for a place that our younger, more severe child would be able to participate. And we've never, ever been to get our picture with Santa because the mall is a freak show and I'm not setting my kids up for failure like that. But this? Might work. And I'm hoping they do it in Philly because Tennessee is a teensy bit far to drive for us just to go see Santa. And so are Virginia and Tampa. Just sayin'.

The point is that the world is slowly becoming more accommodating. Stores and restaurants are getting the whole special-diet-sensory-thing and are more relaxed about things. Heck, I can go to a couple of pizza joints now and get a decent, wheat-free pizza for my kid since he's horribly allergic to typical pizza. Even some roller rinks and moon bounce places will close down for special needs nights. It's a step in the right direction and this family thanks you!

Do you have any sensory-friendly activities near you?


Image via Marj Hatzell

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