Today I took Ruby to see Cars 2 during a sensory friendly screening. She loved the first Cars movie, so I suspected she would love this one too. The whole idea of sensory saturdays (if you don't want to click) is that the lights aren't all the way down, and the sound isn't all the way up and kids like mine can screech and flap and be themselves without being judged or shushed. Just the fact that theaters are willing to do this, makes me want to cry.
And then we got there. We arrived just as the (only) short was playing before the movie. No 20 minutes of annoying commercials and previews, just right to the movie please. We came in behind a family with a preteen boy in a wheelchair that was incredibly excited to be there, whooping it up like a tornado in a trailer park (to steal a phrase from Mater). I couldn't help but smile. Ruby was a bit nervous and opted to sit in my lap, not her own chair. She's 40 lbs but sweet as candy so I can deal with her in my lap for a couple of hours. All around us were families with kids with special needs. Some clearly autism, others not as obvious but they were all rooting for the same team, they weren't the 'other people' these were our people.
The movie started and Ruby was, in a word: normal. She sat in my lap and watched the movie, ate her popcorn and hardly uttered a peep till the final race scene where she jumped up and shouted "go go go McQueen! GO GO GO!" She had a couple of moments where she seemed tense, but then she relaxed and enjoyed the movie. (Personally I thought it was pretty violent and wouldn't buy it for her, or take her to see it again, but it was cute).
All around us, however were the sights and sounds of autism. Down the row an adorable girl who was probably 6 would jump up and flap flap flap while chattering excitedly every time Mater (who was the star) came on the scene. In front of us was the pre-teen in a wheel chair continued to hoot and holler through the whole movie, laughing with his entire being at the funny parts and audibly showing his dislike of the sad parts. He was in it to win it, my friends. There was another boy, who obviously had some serious sound issues who kept shushing everyone, but no one paid any mind because it was okay, it was what he needed to do to get through the movie. And there was my kid, as autistic as the next, sitting quietly in my lap eating popcorn.
By the time the credits rolled (two hours later, man the Cars movies are long) I was simultaneously happy and heartbroken. I held my sweet girl tight and thanked her for a lovely movie date and for getting through it unscathed. I took a deep breath and recognized the challenges that the families around me faced some much greater than mine, some less so, but the same in many ways. I was grateful for the theater for providing the opportunity for kids like mine to go to the movies and not be assaulted in a sensory overload or be looked at with disdain by all the other movie goers because they need to emote.
I know 10 years ago I would have been one of those movie goers annoyed by a loud kid (tho I didn't frequent kids movies 10 years ago), these days we're the ones leaving early because people won't stop shushing Ruby, or because it's just too loud and intense for her. After our experience today, I'll be hard pressed to take her to any regular movie theater if there is an option for a sensory friendly one. Next month is the Pooh movie, and no doubt we'll be there at 10 am with popcorn in hand.
On the way home from the movie (the theater is about 40 min away) we happened by a tow place that had quite a treat out in front.
Bud's Towing, in Oregon City, you win. Ruby didn't say a word, till we headed back to the car when she turned and said "Bye Mater!"
After a rough week, this was just what we needed. A mama/Ruby date to see a movie where no one cared if she flapped her hands and screeched like an exotic bird. A date where she curled in my arms and ate popcorn one piece at a time without stopping for 20 minutes. A movie date where we laughed and cried and cheered Lightning McQueen on to win and for Mater to get the bad guy. A date where for just 2 hours we got to feel normal, even though our version of normal means everyone is loud and goofy and flapping.
Autism takes and takes and takes, but the community of autism? it is always giving, and I'm grateful to be a part of it.