Step 1: Identify goal: My child will tolerate going to the movies.
Step 2: Make a plan and identify your support team.
Teaching plan: Mentally go through each step involved in going to a movie.
1. Choose a movie (a)
2. Get in the car, put child in car seat
3. Drive to destination
4. Walk from car to theater
5. Purchase movie tickets
6. Purchase snacks
7. Select seats and sit
8. Watch previews and commercials
9. Watch movie
10. Walk out of theater
11. Talk about the movie in the car
12. Return home
Identify the steps that are a problem and address those. In this case, out of the 12 steps, we've identified five real problem areas! Steps 6.,7.,8.,9.,10.
Reduce your child's anxiety by informing them of your destination well in advance. Use pictures of the upcoming movie to familiarize your child with the activity.
Inform your child with a picture schedule what will be happening when you get there.
Include each step in the activity.
Let them know how they should behave
Use pictures to describe the expected behavior in advance. Sit in the handicap row. Allow child to remain in stroller if preferred. It is easier to exit the theater from that row, and there are no seats for your child to kick or push. Bring headphones or earmuffs if your child is sensitive to the movie volume, or warn them, especially during the opening surround sound test.
Identify your support team.
It can be a challenge to contact a human at a theater via telephone. If the theater has a birthday party planning number, you can usually get a line to the manager that way. If not, you can go to the theater in person and ask for the manager, or contact them via email if that is an option.(b)
Is your child able to sit through an entire move, or do so with a minimum number of breaks? If not, then you can begin slowly. Ask the manager if it would be okay for you to bring your child frequently to practice - you don't want to purchase tickets as you are only going to be there for a few minutes each time you come. You're not looking for free movies, but are introducing your child to the movie experience and must do so in a slow and measured fashion.(c)
If you don't have a theater nearby willing to accommodate you, you can purchase tickets with a credit card, keep your receipt, stay for the amount of time needed, and request a refund or rain check on your way out. You will usually get one if you leave before the movie is half over. Check their refund policy. I've done this without any difficulty.
In this case, your support team would be you and the theater's manager. If you are receiving ABA, you can request support out in the community, and they will accompany you to the theater. In this case, you, the theater manager, and therapist are your support team.
Make practice visits. Use a timer and stick to it. When using a visual timer, you can allow your child to adjust the time to his preference when appropriate. In this case, if he is enjoying the movie, he can add more time to the timer. If you're not already using a visual timer, this would be a good opportunity to introduce its use.
Reward all successes - little or big. Advertise the reward in advance. You could utilize a First/Then visual.
Doing this with your child will familiarize them with the process. Sometimes talking about the movie, characters and story in advance will help with the transition to watching something new.
Introducing your family to local businesses is a good way to teach your child how to interact with others. The business personnel could get to know your names, and greet you when you come in, and wave goodbye to you when you leave.
If you're usually not an outgoing person, here's an opening script to help you out:
Manager: "I'm one of the theater managers, how may I help you?"
You: "Yes. Thank you for taking my call. My family frequents your theater and and I need your help. My 4 year old son has a disability and we will need special accommodations in your theater. Primarily, he cannot (yet) successfully wait in line, or watch a movie in a theater longer than a few minutes. We also need to sit in the handicap row. This is something I want to arrange ahead of time. Would it be possible to come to the theater periodically for a few minutes at a time so that he can practice? We would prefer not to purchase tickets as we won't be there very long. What are your slowest days and times? Can I ask for you when I get there? We really want him to learn to enjoy going to the movies, as it is something our family does regularly.