Monday, July 15, 2013

Max goes to a movie theater for the first time. SHRIEK!

Max finally seeing a movie in a theater isn't just about achieving one of those milestones not found in the kiddie development books, though it is major.

It's not just about aching for him to enjoy something other kids do and finally having it happen, though it brings such sweet relief.

It's not just about the bliss of him sharing one of my greatest pleasures, or about another activity we'll be able to do as a family, though it is exciting.

This achievement is also about once again realizing that kids with special needs do stuff on their own timeline, and nobody else's, whether it's walking, talking or, yes, going to a movie.

Max has only ever seen movies at a drive-in because he's been terrified of indoor theaters. It's a sensory thing, a combination of loud sound, darkness and pure fear of the unknown. Dave once tried to take him to a movie a couple of years ago and Max ran out screaming. When we drive by a local multiplex, Max points to it and says "Nooooooo" to remind us that we cannot take him there. Bringing him to one of AMC's sensory-friendy screenings hasn't been an option because the sprawling theater is too overwhelming for him.

And then: We all saw Monsters University at the drive-in and loved it.

And then: Monsters University came to the theater in our town. It has several mini theaters inside, but it's all very contained and smallish.

And then, I realized: Maybe the way to get Max to see a movie in a theater was to take him to see something he'd already seen.

And so, Max and I started talking about it. I drove by the theater a bunch of times, showing him the Monsters University lettering on the marquis. Max asked if we could instead watch the DVD at home, but I explained it wasn't out yet.

He agreed he'd try to go, with headphones. I kept asking him to be sure, and he kept saying "Yes." I chose a Saturday matinee because I thought it might be quieter, and off we went, just me and Max. I'm definitely the more tough-ass parent, and I while I was fully ready to let Max leave if he wanted to bail, I figured I'd have a better chance than Mushball Daddy.

Max wanted to bring his original, beat-up 3M Peltor headphones, not the newer ones—a comfort thing. Heck, he could have worn a full-body coat of armor and I would have been fine with that. We got there 30 minutes early so Max could have time to explore. He gleefully ran up to the ticket window and told  the girl inside "Onner ooh-ner-eee!" Sometimes, people speak Max. Sometimes, they just know any excited kid at their window is seeing Monsters University. Take your pick.

Inside, Max stood outside the theater where The Heat was playing, watching the commercials. Then he checked out the one where Monsters University was playing, and decided he liked the other theater better. I explained Monsters U. was only playing in one place, and he pretty much didn't believe me till the movie started.

Max stood in the back; the usher let us keep the door open a crack, which made Max more comfortable because he had an escape, if need be. Some kids stared at Max. Some moms smiled at him.

Max looked like he was losing his nerve.

I'd seen a mom and daughter walk in, and I could tell her daughter had special needs because of that radar you develop. They sat in the back. Just before the movie began, the mom turned around and smiled at me; she had radar, too. "He may not stay for the whole movie," she said, "and that's OK! It took a few times with her, but now she loves movies. She's 25!" They both smiled at me, and I felt reassured.

The movie started with a cute short about two umbrellas in love (only Pixar!) and Max smiled because he remembered it. When Monsters U. came on, Max beamed, and I literally breathed a sigh of relief. Finally. I felt like crying, only it's really hard to get weepy when you are watching Monsters University.

About a half hour in, Max gestured to the door and I walked out with him. He trotted over to see what was going on with The Heat, and when I said "That's not a movie for kids!" he let me take him back to Monsters U.

At some point, Max gestured outside and said he wanted to leave. But I knew he didn't, and I called his bluff. "OK, let's go!" I said, and took him out. He paused, shook his head no and walked back in. I think he needed to play that little game to reassure himself that leaving was still an option.

When the movie ended, Max watched the credits roll. That mom gave my shoulder a squeeze as she walked out. When everyone had left the theater, Max walked all the way to the front, credits still rolling. Then he turned around and looked way up at the square where the projector was. Then he turned back and stared at the screen. He was trying to figure it all out. I explained that the movie streamed from the projector, onto the screen. Then he pointed to the speakers and to the screen and to his ears—he was figuring that out, too. Loved that.

FYI, if you stay all the way till the end of Monsters University, you will see a super-cute little bonus clip. Thanks, Max!

As we left, I tried not to sound too excited, because Max does not appreciate it when I get all giddy about his achievements. I just gave him a hug, whispered "You did it, buddy!" and off we went to celebrate with chocolate ice-cream.

I've been a special needs parent for ten years now, and at times I still forget (or deny) that all my yearning and cajoling doesn't much matter because nothing's going to happen till Max is good and ready. As with everything, it took baby steps, a whole lot of patience and Max maturing. AND HEADPHONES!!!

He's telling me he wants to go see Planes at the theater. Sabrina says she'll come. For the first time, we'll see a movie as a family, even if a couple of us are standing in the back.

I can't wait.


  1. That's awesome Ellen! I very happy for you and Max! You are right, kids with special needs reach their milestones in their own time, when they are ready, I tell myself that a lot, my daughter is going at her own pace and I am ok with that.

  2. That is so wonderful! way to go max! that is one thing Joseph has taught me....he will do ALL things, just on his OWN time, and thats that. LOL. Happy for you guys! cant wait to see more movie pictures. -Genevie

  3. So happy for you and your family. This is a huge deal.

  4. I am so happy for you both. Reading this made my day.

  5. OH my goodness I related to this one! Please give yourself a big pat on the back for this... you are an amazing mom to consider the size of the movie theater, the way to prep him for the experience, and letting him take the lead in how to watch.

    I'm curious about others' experiences at the sensory-friendly AMC movies. I have not done one yet and I'm not sure if I will. I think there is some controversy as to whether we should "coddle" our special needs kids by bringing them to this kind of experience. (I don't feel this way, but know that this idea is out there.)

  6. Thanks for posting this-- reminds me of all the great things that are possible for our kiddos!

  7. This one brought tears to my eyes! You are EXACTLY right...our kids do things on their own timeline. I can relate to this post and can't wait for my son to watch a movie with our family!

  8. Yay Max finally got to enjoy the magic of the movies in an actual theater so happy for him I can't remember the first movie I watched but I LOVE going to the movies.

  9. WAY TO GO, MAX!!!!! What's next? Maybe a birthday party at the movie theater someday?!

  10. I was so choked up reading this to full blown crying .... I love your bolg and can't thank you enough for shring Max with all of us. My daughter has CP amoung other things... she is 7 but on the level of a 1 yr old sometimes 2 yr old. I think about wanting to do the "normal" kid stuff with her all the time. and like most of us sometimes reality sucks and can bring a person down... I can't tell you how many times your blog has brought me out of a funk and reminded me everything is in her way in her own time... there is no time line and she may or may not get to do what other kids do .... and its OK.

    Thanks for the reminders... and I look forward to maybe one day going to the movies with my kids together... but till then movies are my date night with my son :)

  11. I just cried happy tears. Way to go Max!

  12. Beautiful

    "This achievement is also about once again realizing that kids with special needs do stuff on their own timeline, and nobody else's, whether it's walking, talking or, yes, going to a movie."

    So true and a good thing to remember as I wait and pray for Master 3 to speak...

  13. Like a lot of commenters I cried happy tears for you! My son has a hard time with crowded, noisy places too, so I know that someday I may be crying happy tears when he can watch a movie in the theater. It gives me hope that Max is achieving these milestones! Hurray for Max!!

  14. I love how all of you know exactly how this feels and how big of a deal it is, and I especially love that it gives you hope for your kids. xo

  15. wow, thats huge! Congratulations to you and Dave and Sabrina.

  16. Awesome milestone, Ellen! Prep and planning are keys to success. We keep a running list of activities my son was nervous about, and they turned out ok.

    Have you listened to the song "Shine" by the Signing Time mom Rachel de Azevedo Coleman? Our kids do things in their own time. Great message.

  17. Way to go Max and thank you for this post. Though my son with CP is 5 we recently took our family to the movies to see Monster's U as well - morning matinee, specially selected theater etc. He loved it and did so well. I played it off like it was no big deal, just something families do when inside I was so thrilled at how good it felt to be able to do something others see as so simple. Reading your blog allowed me to pull up the stuff I shoved down and celebrate the milestone - thank you for the gift. So appropriate that this movie about monsters is helping families/children do things that seem scary, but then really aren't.

  18. Wow .. its amazing .. you know what .. after reading your post I mustered all the courage to take my 5 and a half year old to her first movie ..
    We were late to the movie since I wad in 2, minds ...
    My kid was petrified since the theater was dark... We managed to get to our seats .. ( I was the one who was really scared I must admit )
    The first 20 min was very bad .. my kid started to make strange noises .. she just wanted to feel that she wad present their ( the propeoception sense seeking was high ) .. my husband took her on his lap to comfort her . Few others gave us the usual nasty looks ..
    I just felt that she needed some time to get adjusted and I put her back to her seat with the move and sit cushion on it and believe it or not she stated enjoying the movie and like Max she sat till the end ..
    I secretly clicked her pic .. I was soo happy was my first movie outing since she was born ..
    Thanks for posting .. it gave me a whole lot of courage ...


    1. Shruthi, you have made my DAY. Congratulations to you and your little movie-goer!!!

  19. That is wonderful!! I love hearing about his victories!

  20. Love this , my son too had trouble in the cinema.. it took us 5 yrs to get back into one..and we did it with headphones too. !!!! what a breakthrough.. so glad Max worked hard to push through his fears . High 5 young man.. and mum. way to go too. :)

  21. I dont really like to talk about this too much but i have aspergers and i dont remember what else and i am actually 14 and one time i was on a mission trip in cinncinati with my church and i was helping out at a camp called stepping stones or it is also sometimes referred to as camp allen and it is a camp for mentally and physically disabled kids and i was helping out and i soon noticed that a good amount of the kids there were very happy and uplifted even with their disablilities and i still couldnt understand how they could always be uplifted and happy when they have all those disabilities. It was an awesome experience and that experience really brought me closer to god. I am really gonna try to volunteer and help out next summer. The only thing that makes it hard is the fact that i live about 5 hours away from the camp and that might make it difficult to get up there and stay in the area for a week or two to volunteer but hopefully i will at some point go there and volunteer more.

  22. If anyone wants to talk to me more please email me at i do not want any mean emails or anything and i do not want spam either.


Thanks for sharing!

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