One happy day a long time ago, when life appeared a lot less complicated, I sat in my cinema seat enjoying “Finding Nemo” with all the special effects that make a cinema visit so special. Beside me, my eldest daughter snuggled into me and I into her, being careful not to hurt her recently broken arm of course. It was one of those very special moments we all share with our little ones on their journey through childhood. The kind that fill us with a wonderful warm glow that re-energise us and help make us feel invincible. My thoughts drifted back to the little baby in hospital who was part of our family but was not yet strong enough to join us in the big world. I looked forward to the day when she too would be snuggling into my other side, I was filled with anticipation.
The years traveled by, my lovely DD began showing sings of Developmental Delay and Sensory Processing Difficulties then followed a diagnosis of ASD. I became busy with helping her to cope better with the world. Ideas of going on many outings including the cinema became further out of reach. I didn’t mind as I was busy doing things all parents with kids on the Spectrum fill their time with – all that you possibly can for your child and fighting to get services. But my other kids did mind. They were not happy to wait years or months for each blockbuster to come out on DVD and watch it in our living room with (stinky) microwave popcorn.
I heard about special cinema screenings for mother and toddlers and clubs were kids with Special Needs were welcome. I quickly tuned out again because they were in urban areas and the stress/excitement of traveling would likely have one child feeling very anxious and the other wound up and stimming for Ireland, so I crossed it off my to do list and carried on as before.
Last Autumn I looked for the nearest Autism Support Group which for me was LOFFA
(Laois Offaly Families for Autism). I knew some of the faces of the members from the Facebook Support Group
but many I didn’t. LOFFA are a well established group who have decades of experience supporting parents and their children with Autism and boy does it show. Many hard working dedicated officers who also like to keep emphases on the social aspect of the group for the families of the members – all family members including siblings too. My ears pricked as I heard plans to organized a special cinema trip, I was amazed to see it had been organized and arranged a few short weeks later, with whispers that if successful it could be a regular event.
My eldest, now a teenager, was not interested in going to the cinema on a Saturday morning preferring to have a good lie-in instead, so I headed off with the two smaller ones. I arrived armed like a battalion with re-enforcements of stretchy fiddle toys to reduce stimming and a fully charged DVD player and MP3 player, picnic set and swimming gear in case we had to make a getaway. NONE of it needed, yes that’s right none of it was needed.
On arrival the lights were on and the sound down. Besides making it more comfortable, we could see smiling friends and wave. We could watch the other kids enthralled or when a child had an enjoyable moment others could share in the moment too. We could talk to and direct our kids, important for newbie’s like mine. I didn’t hear crying over spilled popcorn or drinks and some even kids paired up with pals made at other events and went to experience sitting in the front row with other Mammy’s volunteering to keep up with them. (Thank you to all , you know who you are).
The morning went brilliantly, very little stimming, no crying and an assistance dog became a useful distraction. It was a real community event and not only my kids enjoy it but I enjoyed it immensely too. I almost wanted to pinch myself it was my first cinema trip in six years. I was so proud of my kids and so grateful to LOFFA for this turning point in our lives.
Little did I know the best was yet to come. The weeks rolled by and it was time for another showing my shy teenager announced that she might come with us the next time. I could hardly believe my eyes when she greeted me that morning even though it wasn’t the film she had hoped for. So on Saturday 24th July I had all my kids sitting beside me in the cinema at a very rare family outing, surrounded by accepting and understanding friends. Who ever says miracles don’t happen – they DO and they DID.