Autism and Avoiding Meltdowns in Public

by beagooddad on July 2, 2008

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A couple days ago, I talked about our last trip to the movie theater and the little meltdown that Pookie had and mentioned that after the fact, I realized that i hadn’t used all of the tricks that we know that could have helped. Then of course someone asked what those tips are.

So, this is a post about our tips for surviving at the movie theater when things go wrong. Let me preface this by saying that this is more of a Pookie specific guide. Kids with autism are often very different from each other. Some of these will not work with some kids with autism and several of them will work on kids without it.

Let me also say that we go to the movies pretty frequently and very rarely have any problems.

From the start things were a little weird. Some guy was playing guitar in the lobby and the speakers were very loud. It bugged Pookie right off the bat. He seemed confused about what was happening so I stopped him to point out the guitar player and then the overhead speakers where the noise was coming from. He was just settling down when one of the speakers fell twenty feet to the floor with a loud crash. If I hadn’t stopped to explain what was happening, it might have actually landed on us. The noise got him slightly agitated again. So, there was a bit of odd circumstances that got us off on the wrong foot.

But among the things we could control, the biggest mistake I made involved the popcorn. Pookie LOVES popcorn and sits very still during the movies when he is eating it. He said he wanted candy instead so that’s what I got him. He finished before the movie and Geetle and I finished the popcorn we were sharing beforehand, too.

I should have waited until the movie started to get the treats. We made it through about 40 minutes of the movie and that would have easily given us another 40 minutes.

We also have some noise reducing headphones that he wears when we go to parades. He hates the fire engines and all of the honking. The headphones tone down the volume and let’s him enjoy the day. We should start taking them to the movies because it is very likely that the volume of the movie was bugging him. In fact, we should keep a set in the car so we can just run out and get them when we get caught off guard.

Pookie also often carries around a toy/book of the day. If we leave the house, he frequently takes it with him. We could have encouraged him to pick something to bring with. Sometimes just the physical act of holding something seems to keep him more grounded and calmer. Or we could have brought some crayons and paper for him to color on.

Pookie might have also been distracted by chatter or a baby crying or cell phones flipping open that the rest of us just naturally filter out. When Giggles gets upset, it really bothers Pookie. Before leaving the theater, I should have tried moving to a different section. The entire front section was empty and would have been pretty quiet.

I could have swapped seats with BAGM. Sometimes letting a fresh set of eyes and hugs deal with the situation is the best method of all.

I also could have just ignored it. There were a lot of kids there making a lot of low level background noise. If I left Pookie alone from the start, he might have just stayed low level annoyed and not bothered anybody.

Unfortunately, I was tired and frazzled for some reason before we even got there and wasn’t able to think of any of this at the time. BAGM was busy with Giggles during most of it and wasn’t even aware it was happening since she and Pookie were on opposite sides of our little row.

Another very important thing for parents of kids with autism to remember. This was one trip to the movies that didn’t go well. We do not plan on getting discouraged and avoiding going in the future. We will use it as a reason to make sure we are a little better prepared next time.

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