“Can I laugh like this..?”

Doing something for the first time with my son can require a lot of preparation and planning; this is particularly true for something I plan to do with him in a couple of weeks: Take him to his first movie.

Attending a movie in a movie theatre requires conforming to a lot of social expectations, that run directly counter to my son’s natural behaviours. When my son is happy, he flaps his hands up and down, hums loudly, wriggles in his chair, and sometimes full-out bounces in his seat or stands up and runs back and forth if the moment really takes him. Not exactly good movie-going behaviour. In fact, exactly bad movie-going behaviour. I can’t reasonably expect others to adjust to his behaviour in that situation either, since it directly causes significant upset to what they paid good money to come there to do. The simple fact is that if my son cannot or will not control himself – conform to the social expectations of a movie-goer – we will have to leave, even if it means me physically dragging my six year old out while he cries and screams.

So I’m doing what I can to explain and prepare him for what he needs to do, and what will happen if he can’t do it. I’ve told him that if he hums and flaps and bounces, we will have to leave. I’ve tried to soften this potential blow by saying we can try again though another day if that happens. I’ve asked him to show me how he sits nice and still and makes no noise; he practices it beautifully. I’ve told him if he needs to ask me a question or has a problem, that he can get my attention and whisper in my ear, so he practices that too.

And then he thinks of something that hadn’t crossed my mind. He says to me “Can I laugh like this…?” And does a practice laugh. Then he says “or like this?” and does a different louder one. He wants to know how loud he should laugh and what it should sound like, in advance. I try to answer as best I can, that he can laugh when something is funny, but he shouldn’t just laugh when something isn’t funny. The conversation gets progressively more awkward as we discuss back and forwards how loud and how long he can laugh, and I’m still not convinced that he understands my point about only laughing either way when something makes him want to laugh. Still, it shows me he is thinking about what is acceptable and wants to do what is right. He’s even practiced how he will whisper to me to ask whether he is allowed to laugh during the movie.

I’m not convinced he’s ready for the whole movie experience, but he’s been obsessing about the new movie Hugo – with its trains and clocks featuring so prominently in the ads almost every time he watches TV – so maybe his love of the movie subject matter will be enough to motivate him to control his natural urges. That’s the hope anyway. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. I’ve already given a lot of thought to best seating position; near aisles and far from other people, and am choosing a day and time that I’m hoping attendance will be low (I’ve even chosen the 2D version of the movie, to limit the new experiences and in the hope more people will choose the 3D version).

No matter how it goes down on the day, I’ll be proud of him for trying, because I know he will try, and it won’t be easy. I’m hoping that his occasional hum and flap will be forgiven by the audience, and not be met with the same hostility that is otherwise deserved by those who answer their cellphones in a theatre or shine a lazer at the screen; he wouldn’t be the first to break social expectations at the movies.

And I’m hoping that he’ll enjoy it so much that he won’t remember to ask me if it’s OK to laugh.

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18 Responses to “Can I laugh like this..?”

  1. I live near Atlanta, a large city in the Southern US. They have movie theaters that have “autism friendly showings”. Ben is way too old for that now, and he doesn’t need it.

    But your post reminded me of when Ben was young. He had a “fake laugh”, that he used when he thought it was socially appropriate that sounded just like the goofy giggle of a neighbor girl. And then he had his “real laugh” that he used when he thought something was funny.

    Oh, when he was little I just remembered he used to sound like a dolphin, a staccato laugh.

    Anyhow, these days he or I can make a smart-ass comment and laugh so hard a real laugh that we cry and our stomachs hurt. Time heals all fake laughs.

    • A while back I made enquiries and did some research into the existence of autism friendly (or even more generally, disabled friendly) showings here, and they just don’t exist. (And I can’t just work into the baby/mummy sessions the theatres currently do, since they’re all timed to coincide with when school children are at school.) I asked the main national autism charity too if there was any history of such a thing here; no go. Basically, if I want it to happen, I’d have to rent out a theatre and try to pay the costs off by selling tickets, which is a large project to organise. It’s time and money (and energy) I don’t have right now, but I would like to organise such a thing for the local autism community some day, when life’s a bit less hectic (maybe when my youngest has started school). It really is a lovely idea.

      I love your comment “time heals all fake laughs”, what a lovely way to put it. I have noticed that things my son used to fake when it comes to social niceties (like welcomes and hugs etc) have become more natural and easy, and most importantly, more enjoyable, for him as the years go by. He has become very sociable and outgoing, people often tell me what a real sweetheart he is 🙂

  2. Jim W says:

    Lily recently attended her first movie. It went well! Have fun. Remember movies at the theater are SUPER loud, if that sort of thing bugs him.

  3. Janine says:

    How exciting for you both! Most children take a few practices to ‘conform’ to movie-going behaviour so I’d celebrate all the steps your young man makes towards achieving this goal. I like how you’ve considered optimising the theatre environment for him and primed him about what to expect. In our house we also practised by watching DVDs at home in the dark, eating popcorn and sitting still(ish) for extended times. I’d not be too concerned about some loud questions, flapping or squirming. It’s a kid’s movie – that’s to be expected – lots of children do similar things and I’m sure it won’t wreck other people’s movie-going experience. Best wishes for a mutually pleasurable time!

  4. Knowing that I may have upset someone, and that an apology is due, is still a magical and mysterious event that makes me smile every time. Not happy that I upset someone, but happy that I managed to perceive it, where I never used to.

    This smile always makes the apology look false. Now, before apologising, I have to find a quiet spot and have a cathartic laughter session to purge myself of smiles so I can apologise properly.

  5. dixieredmond says:

    Oh, my. This is so familiar to me. Especially, the “Can I laugh like this?” part We can go to movies now. There was a Sesame Street video that my son watched when he was little that was about movie eitquette attendance….some muppet wore a very tall hat. That actually was very helpful. 🙂 Good luck.

  6. Sharon says:

    I’m really excited to hear how it goes. Apparently the movie is brilliant.

    • I expect the experience will lead to another post! And yes, I’ve heard lots of glowing reviews for the movie itself, though I suspect I won’t be paying much attention to it and I already know my little man will attempt to ask endless questions at least at the beginning (as he is prone to do for most things). Should be an interesting experience.

  7. Tsara says:

    I have spent many an attempted movie outing with my brother in the car. He loves to sit out there listening to music, so when his excited clapping or screaming meant we had to leave the theater I would go hang out with him in the car while my kids finished watching the movie. Now that I think about it, maybe he was excitedly clapping and screaming looking forward to our music listening date in the car!! Eventually I got wise and took him to a ridiculously silly movie filled with music and minimally clad women, both of which he loves, and got lucky regarding neighboring movie goers who found the minimally clad women worth screaming and clapping for as well! My teenage boys didn’t mind to much either. On the whole a successful and fun theater going experience. It may have taken us years to get there, but when it comes to living and learning, what’s the hurry?? Now I just make sure to take him to see teen movies that I would never otherwise bother seeing. He loves them, and I love him!

    I love the “Can I laugh like this…” conversation! I can’t tell you how often my kids and I have gotten unhappy looks from others because of our love for loud laughter. It never occurred to me to ask if we could! I hope you guys have a lovely movie date!

  8. Matty Angel says:

    I hope to see this movie to, it looks neat. 🙂 But I can’t go to movies on my own, but what I really want to see at the moment is War Horse because it has a horse in it. You know I chose my bank because it had a horse on the picture. I really love horses.

    I saw The Brave Little Toaster as my first movie and I saw Lion King as my second. I remember it as scary at first and confusing… but I liked it very much. I loved the colors, the moving images.

    When I was a older I discovered DVD’s and I discovered I loved having the control of the noises and colors. That I can rewind it to listen to sounds I liked, and that I could stop the colors moving when I wanted to… or start them! I now have over 300 DVD’s.

    I hope your movie experience is very fun and neat and works out, but if it does not work out, at least it sounds like it will be a learning experience for both of you. So that is neat.

  9. Jack says:

    I took my son to his first movie a few weeks ago, the muppet movie. He was just shy of being 4 years old so probably it was a bit optimistic of me to do it, but anyway I did. First offer went to the first session on the 1st of jan on a Sunday morning. Ther was only us and one other person in the cinema.
    The first mistake I made was arriving before the adds and previews. The had a toy story cartoon in first which he liked though. He tool his puppy, which he like to take everywhere to the cinema but kept dropping it in the dark. He then started to fidget and walk up and down the isle. We made it till the last 30 min but a combination of the movie going dark (part of the movie) constant visuals and attention span, loosing puppy again resulted in a major crying episode so we quickly left.
    Overall I think he enjoyed some of it, but it was way too much.

    • Good point about trying to avoid the ads and previews, at the very least I will pre-explain this aspect to my son now that you’ve reminded me of it. Sorry to hear your experience didn’t go that well Jack, I find myself thinking more and more that this won’t go well for us either, but we’ll give it a go anyway; he’s just so keen on seeing Hugo. Worse comes to worse he’ll get to see it in full on DVD at a later date (I personally prefer DVDs at home over movie-going). Either way it will be a learning experience for both my son and myself, I’m trying to see it in that light whenever I find myself worrying over it too much.

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