I have seen a few posts about this on Twitter and thought it was time to investigate further. AMC theatres across the country have begun to participate in Sensory Friendly movie screenings once a month specifically to cater to individuals with autism. These are not re-run movies, either, but new releases with the volume turned down a bit, the lights turned up a bit, and fellow audience members who will understand the occasional ill-timed outburst. Next up is "The Tooth Fairy" on February 6.
We rarely attend movie theatres these days. Mainly the price tag is a bit much when we can use Netflix and watch in the comfort of our own "home theatre" with whatever snacks we wish on hand and the pause button available when needed. I've only attempted the theatre with our oldest daughter twice. The first time she was probably 3.5 years old and I took her to see Cars, mainly because it was boiling hot at our house (pre-AC) and I knew the theatre would be cool. We went to an afternoon matinee and lasted about half the movie with a couple of field trips to the lobby, the restroom, down the aisle, etc. She wasn't being loud, but even in a matinee with other children I felt like we were too big of a distraction for the price our fellow audience had paid. We ended up wandering around the theatre for a while (still coveting the AC) until the ushers started giving me odd looks at which point we made a graceful exit while we still could.
More recently we saw "Hoodwinked" in a crowded matinee setting and I was much more prepared. I primed our daughter to understand that it would be dark, and maybe loud, but that she would need to sit quietly and watch the show. I sat on one side of her, Daddy sat on the other, and we were the first three seats off the aisle in case we needed to exit. Most importantly I brought along a bag of "fidget toys" - a trick I learned from our behavior support class. These can be almost any random kind of object though they should be soft (in case they unexpectedly become a projectile) and for a movie especially they should be as quiet as possible. Interesting textures, things that stretch, string that can be laced around fingers, all make great fidget toys. They provide a sensory focus or distraction when other inputs become overwhelming. For our daughter they ward off the boredom of waiting for something fun to happen. I had a bag with four or five fidgets. I told my daughter that I had them and if she wanted one she could ask for one in a soft voice. Hoodwinked has a fairly complex storyline, so it wasn't long before I heard her ask for a fidget. At first I worried that I wouldn't have enough different objects, but she paced them and made it through the movie without any problems. Wow! Score one for priming and preparation!
I would probably make similar preparations even for a sensory sensitive screening, simply because it was such a great feeling to work together with my daughter to help her behave well in a challenging setting. If you are interested in AMC's sensory friendly films, you can find a theatre here. There aren't any "really" nearby for us, but maybe if it catches on...
Credit where it is due: I learned about the fidget toys and other techniques I am currently using with our daughter from two wonderful people, Clarissa Montanaro and Robin Hauge. Please contact them at clarissamontanaro-AT-gmail-DOT-com for more information on this technique.