Today I took Tink to the cinema – only the second time she’s ever been – the first was earlier this year to see the rather grandly-titled ‘Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots’, which really was just a few random, already-seen-a-billion-times episodes, plus a new, 15 minute one that was mildly amusing. So, all in all, a bit like watching telly on a bigger screen and with more people.
I had seen that our nearest Vue cinema was holding an autism friendly (AF) screening of the latest ‘Thomas and Friends’ film. I’ve always taken H to see these ever since they started making them into cinema events and they’re great for little ones: not too long and a set of already-familiar characters so you know they’re going to enjoy it anyway. Tink loves Thomas, so I thought we’d give it a go.
Considering there was a chance that there might be some children with autism present, and seeing as it was the only film showing at 9.30am, I was a little surprised to hear the loud, aggressive music playing in the cinema foyer as we entered. Didn’t seem to bother Tink though, so all was good for us. We had a little wait to buy tickets (a lot less of a wait than usual for that cinema!), which was slightly tricky in that there are all manner of chocolate goodies right next to the counter, so distraction comes in to play, whilst hoping the people in front aren’t going to buy loads of snacks which takes ages! Given that they opened the doors at 9.25 and the film was due to start at 9.30, you’d have thought maybe a couple of people serving would have been good…
Now, here is what Vue have on their website in regard to Autism Friendly screenings:
Autism friendly films
Autism friendly films are special screenings where subtle changes to the traditional cinema environment have been made, namely –
- Lights are left on low
- The sound is turned down
- Trailers and adverts are not played
- It’s ok for people to move around during the screening and make a bit of noise.
We also have social stories for each cinema along with a synopsis for this month’s film. These can be used to describe what to expect at the screenings.
Great! Just what we need for our spectrum kids! And social stories too – brilliant! So, this is what I was expecting. Not unreasonable? (I did chuckle at the last bullet point – have you ever been to a kids’ film?!) As we opened the door to the screen, it was pitch black. When we made our way up to the seats, the house lights were on – very low. The adverts – yes, adverts – had started. See how it says no trailers and adverts? Hmmm…. And they were loud. I mean, even I winced a bit a couple of times, and I don’t have hypersensitive hearing.
By this time, I had already tweeted the cinema about the darkness and the volume, who very quickly responded that I should speak to a member of staff who could sort it out for me. Ok. If I could find one, maybe I would. I couldn’t leave Tink on her own, and to uproot her from her seat once we’d just settled would have been, well, unsettling.
We sat and waited. And waited…. and…. waited! Advert after advert, and the already-dim lights go down (off)! Then began the trailers! (I was now tweeting again. I’m very passive/aggressive in my complaining!) Now, normally, I like the trailers. I like to see what’s coming up that I’ll probably never get to see unless it’s a kids’ film. (The Peanuts Movie looks quite good, by the way, as does Pan!) However, when you’ve told a child – any child, really, that they’re going to the cinema to see Thomas, that’s exactly what they’ll be expecting. Especially a child with autism. They will not be expecting a bunch of adverts and a good few trailers first. Especially when the website says there won’t be any. Now, Tink’s pretty good and it didn’t seem to bother her too much; she found the trailer for the Peanuts Movie pretty funny, and insisted on copying every sound either Snoopy or Charlie Brown made, complete with facial expressions, which was cute. However, it does extend the ‘sitting’ time. And the more ads and trailers we have to sit through, the less sitting she does when the actual film is on.
Finally, the film had begun and, Tink was quite happy, sitting in the dark with the volume high. Lucky for us. She was a gem who although a little fidgety, stayed roughly in the vicinity of her seat the entire time, unlike other children, who were climbing over the chairs or sitting on the steps, chatting. But that’s ok, because it’s an AF screening, and moving around and making noise is ok! It’s a good job making noise is ok really, as Tink didn’t shut up the whole time. She was very vocal (“Thomas, stop…STOP!”) and sang and shouted her way through the whole film. I took this to be a good thing in that she was enjoying it, although I think it also meant she was becoming a little overstimulated too, as she was stimming more than usual. The worst part of the morning was actually in the loo after (I was bursting – I usually try to avoid going if I’m on my own with her) and someone had the audacity to use a hand dryer. This just about finished Tink off.
So, although I was very disappointed at the cinema’s lack of attention to detail on the AF screening, for us, it was still a fairly successful trip. Not one I’d want to repeat too often, though, autism friendly or not, as it has left Tink overstimulated and tired. She’s currently asleep on the sofa, cuddling the ipad she has unsuccessfully tried to unlock to play on!
Shame on Vue for advertising something that wasn’t delivered. I am fairly certain there were one or two other autism families there for the same reason we were: to experience something that may usually be inaccessible for their spectrum children due to the overwhelming sensory input a regular screening provides. I wonder if this is something that has irritated them as much as it has me, or whether they’re seasoned professionals and are just used to the world being ‘not quite right’ for their children and they just suck it up and get on with it? Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to be any different to a regular screening and, as I have no point of reference, I can’t tell just how much it has affected Tink compared to a real AF screening. We won’t be rushing back there!