Mom With Special Needs Son Was Kicked Out of 'Dumbo' -- Because He Was Giggling 'Too Much'

Jonathan Daly is seen sitting in his wheelchair, playing with toys his mom has handed him.
WGNTV

Taking small children to the movies (or make that anywhere) is a challenge. But when you're the parent of a special needs child, things get even trickier. Jennifer Daly knows this reality all too well. Her 3 1/2-year-old son, Jonathan, has a rare form of dwarfism that causes other medical conditions and requires him to use a wheelchair. And while he's still unable to talk, little Jonathan can make some noises to express himself -- including laughter when he finds something funny.

  • But apparently, it was his exuberant laughter last week at a showing of Dumbo that led to an upsetting confrontation that the mom shaken.

    It happened last Friday night, when Daly took Jonathan and her other young son to an AMC movie theater in Lake in the Hills, Illinois, according to WGNTV. About an hour in to the showing, Jonathan started laughing and making noises, since he was clearly enjoying it. But just 10 minutes later, a movie theater employee came over to tell them they received a noise complaint. 

    Now, there are plenty of acceptable ways to go about issuing this kind of message to a parent. The employee could have politely let the mother know they'd received a complaint, and perhaps ask if there was anything she could do to keep the noise level down. Or, they could have merely mentioned that a complaint had come in, to just make her aware of the situation. 

    But instead, the employee asked them to leave. That's right; as in, get up from their seats mid-film and vacate the theater. Over a child's laughter -- in a CHILDREN'S movie!

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  • Daly says she was so blindsided and hurt by the complaint, she promptly burst into tears.

    "I was angry, I couldn’t believe I was getting kicked out of a movie," she told the outlet. "I’ve never been kicked out of anything in 43 years."

    WGNTV reached out to AMC Theaters Director of Corporate Communications Ryan Noonan shortly after the incident, and received a written statement that said a manager received multiple complaints about an "ongoing disruption" during the film. The manager then spoke with Daly after observing the issue.

    "To ensure a quality moviegoing experience for everyone, disruptive behavior is not permitted during a movie," the statement read.

  • To be fair, Daly was offered a full refund, according to Noonan, as well as the option to move to a different seat or have a private showing.

    Daly was also informed about AMC's "sensory-friendly" movie program, which offers special needs families a place to watch movies that doesn't adhere to the same noise-level rules.

    But the mom of two was upset and heartbroken over the complaint, and said at that point, she just wanted to go home.

    "I can’t say that I felt like I was being discriminated against, I don’t think that was the lady's intention," she told WGNTV.

  • But still, she was hurt. So on April 13, Daly took to the AMC Facebook page to share her experience and voice her anger.

    In her post, which has since gone viral, Daly added that merely just exiting the theater with her two sons was a feat in and of itself, because of Jonathan's wheelchair, oxygen, and feeding bag. In fact, she had carefully selected seats at the top back of the theater to be out of everyone else's way.

    "I was not moving fast enough because she wanted to expedite me because I had to stand up and pack Jonathan up and get all his equipment," she wrote. "Mind you it took me two trips to get up there." 

    Once she was outside, Daly says she couldn't stop crying. And while she acknowledged the manager's offers for her to come back another day, she explained that a trip to the movies isn't that easy for her.

    "'Do you realize what an achievement it is for me to be able to take my boys to go see this?'" Daly asked the manager, adding that she works full time. "It is really hard for me." 

  • Adding even more salt in the wound was the fact that other theatergoers weren't exactly silent either, according to Daly. 

    "Someone’s cell phone was going off for over a minute, someone else was holding their phone up with their light on to video record the movie, someone else was talking ... and I am being kicked out?" she wrote. "Are you serious?" 

    And as for that offer of moving to another seat, the mom says she wasn't just being difficult -- the only other available seats were located in the front row, which wouldn't have been possible. One of Jonathan's challenges, she explained, is that he can’t bend his neck forward or turn his head due to cervical spine issues.

  • In the end, Daly said all she really wants from this experience is to raise awareness about the challenges of special needs families

    "I don’t want anything from them, all I want is for them to train their staff better," the mom said. "I want people to be aware that we have to be more kind to each other and put ourselves in each other’s situations once in awhile, and remember to be kinder to each other before jumping to some conclusions."

    That's always good advice to follow; but considering nearly 54 million Americans cope with special needs, it's especially true when it comes to understanding the physical and mental challenges of others. I think we could all stand to be reminded of that fact. And perhaps the next time we sit in a movie theater or enter a crowded place with parents who may be raising a child with special needs, we'll pause before jumping to conclusions ourselves.