by Lillian Csernica on November 9, 2013
Today I took John to see “Thor: The Dark World.” It’s a great movie. Plenty of drama and passion and vengeance and gorgeous costumes and really wild special effects. John and I both wore our “Loki Charms” T-shirts ( from Bamboota!). I also had my special Thor and Loki earrings on that I made from figures I bought off eBay or Etsy or somewhere like them. The theater staff had a great time reading all the jokes written on our shirts.
When John goes to the movies in an actual theater, there is a whole lot more sensory stimulation than he experiences at home:
Visual: Big action on the big screen, and we’re sitting in the dark.
Auditory: Quiet dialogue, loud dialogue, the soundtrack, and all the crashes and explosions and possibly even screaming and shouting.
Tactile: The stadium seats rock a little. They’re also cushioned differently than the furniture we have at home. People are behind him and in front of him and even beside him.
Olfactory: The smell of popcorn!
Gustatory: A hot dog (unusual for John), salty popcorn, and cold lemonade.
Now there sits John, processing all of this sensory input. Is it any wonder he talks during the movie? Fortunately, I’ve gotten him to the point where he whispers. He talks during movies at home too, and I’m always shushing him there too. Well, not always. There are times when it’s very important for me to listen to what John is asking or saying. His questions or comments might seem completely obvious on the surface. Sometimes I get impatient with the distraction. That’s when I have to remind myself than John is asking about or commenting on what’s happening in the movie because he’s not sure he understands what he’s observing. That, or he’s pretty sure he does understand and wants to double-check on that with me.
He wants and needs VALIDATION.
Part of that is sheer confirmation. It’s me saying, “Yes, John, that’s right!” That’s all it takes. Part of it is a kid’s sheer excitement over the air battle between the bad guys in their spaceships and the good guys in their version of Harrier jets. John and people like him just want to keep checking their impressions against a “master,” so to speak, so they know they’re still tracking correctly.
Validation is more complicated and more important on so many levels. There’s a scene between Loki and Frigga, his adopted mother, that takes place inside Loki’s cell in the dungeon. Loki’s dialogue is usually snide and sarcastic, or it’s euphemistic, satirical, and full of double entendre. It’s hard enough for somebody on the spectrum to process straightforward human speech, much less the verbal artistry of the God of Mischief. So John asked a few questions. He was quiet about it, and nobody shushed us. The twentysomethings behind us were a little on the rowdy side, so they might not have even noticed.
The next time you’re at the movies, or a baseball game, or some other form of public entertainment and you find yourself becoming annoyed by that person who can’t stop talking or fidgets a lot or gets really really excited when the crowd cheers or other noise levels rise, I ask you to stop and consider the possibility that the person has sensory processing issues and he or she is doing the best that he or she can. If you see this person with somebody else who appears to be acting in a supervisory or caregiving role, odds are good you’re looking at a person with some kind of special needs. Please, err on the side of compassion.
Speaking as the mother of an autistic child, that would make you a superhero in my eyes.