Taking a Child with Autism to the Movies: 5 Tips From a Mom Who's Been There

Taking a Child with Autism to the Movies: 5 Tips From a Mom Who's Been There

My son has autism and, at age 13, recently saw a movie in a theater for the first time. It is not something I thought would work for him--until now. 

When we walked past the movie theater and he said he wanted to go see a movie, I got so excited. It was time to plan for this event. Challenges I knew we would face included the darkness, the loud sounds, sitting still, and staying quiet. This is what I did to prepare him and what I’d advise any parent of a child with autism to do to get your child ready to see a movie in the theater: 

Pick the right movie and prepare for it: I did research to see what was playing that would be appropriate and keep his interest for as long as possible. I looked to see what the running times were as well--the shorter the better for him. Once I found the right movie, we watched the trailer a bunch of times. We talked about it for a few days before actually going. I pointed out any ads I saw for that movie on top of taxis or at bus stops. I tried my best to keep the title in his head, to keep him exciting about going. 

Plan snacks beforehand: If your child is a popcorn lover, like mine is, this is an easy one! I also brought a few others for back up. Ask your child what he would like to eat--let him be part of choosing so there will be no surprises to have to deal with. Plan to bring everything inside with you, so once you are watching the movie you will not need to get up out of your seats. I had water ready, also, and plenty of napkins. 

Choose the best time: Think about what time of day would be easiest for your child. For me, it was the first show on a Sunday morning, with the hope of a small audience. Before heading over, we ran around in the park to let out some energy. I was hoping this would make it easier for him to sit longer. 

Skip the previews: We thought that for his first time at the theater, it would be a good idea to skip the previews. We arrived just in time for the main event. That cut about 15 minutes off the sitting time. If necessary, leave the moment the movie finishes instead of sitting through the credits. This also helps you avoid any crowds at the end. Do whatever you need to limit the sitting-still and staying-quiet time. 

Ease into the theater: We started out standing in the back of the theater, not even being able to see the screen at first. I let my son guide me about what he felt comfortable doing. After standing for a few minutes, we turned the corner where the screen became visible. After standing in that spot for a few more minutes, my son walked over and sat down in a chair. We were in! 

I did not know if this day would ever come, but I could not have been more pleased with how it went. He sat beautifully and watched the entire movie. I think the prep really paid off. Not only was I proud of him, but I am so happy that we now have another activity that we can add to our list!

RELATED: Find local resource and professional for kids with autism.