This weekend saw an absolute downpour of relentless rain. Rain of “epic” proportions. So it was both fitting (and convenient) that I had planned to take the little person in my life to the cinema to see the new animated film Epic.
Ever since we saw the trailer a few months back and thanks to the cunning marketing folk over at McDonald’s, he’s been counting down the days to the films release (literally, on his calendar) and collecting a new toy each week until he has the whole collection.
I haven’t really talked about my son on this blog. Given the kerayzee nature of t’internet I don’t want him to find all sorts of muck when he Google’s himself as a teenager. Assuming that Google will still be the dominant search engine in 2020… But also because I’ve never wanted him to feel labelled. But the fact is he does have a label, a technical one the medical profession use to pigeon hole him, and they call it Autism.
It’s rather fun as you can imagine. Not. Thankfully the little person is what they call “high-functioning” which means he is intelligent enough to learn how to make his way in the “normal” world, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy for him. So the calendar countdown and the collections is actually a very HUGE thing, a thing we must get right – much to the annoyance of the folk who do the window at the Drive-Thru – but everything’s got to be just right, on time, in order, in a good mood, or else!
But the little person is also 4. And 4 year old’s like 4-year-old kinda stuff. They like dinosaurs and cars and trains and they like anything those clever animation folk over in America create to entertain us. They also like anything with sword fighting, funny slugs and magic! So Epic seemed just perfect. The only problem being the many quirks that autism adds to everyday life, never mind an outing to the cinema. But thankfully, last year I discovered a UK organisation called Dimensions who run “Autism Friendly Screenings” in Odeon Cinemas across the UK, roughly once a month. And I was well-chuffed when their Enewsletter told me that this month’s film was Epic, an advance screening no less.
Because if it wasn’t a friendly screening, the cinema trip would be a helluva lot harder. But the friendly screenings are so friendly I could kiss them! ‘What makes the screenings autism friendly?‘ you say. Well:
The lights are on low – hugely important if your child drops things or fidgets a lot
The volume is turned down – Autism brings with it sensory difficulties. One of the little person’s is noise. He fears both the hoover and the hairdryer. The lower volume means he can watch a film without ear covers on
No trailers at the beginning of the film – it’s hard enough for even the biggest movie fan with autism to sit through 80 or 90 minutes, never mind a half hour of ads before it even starts
You’re able to take your own food and drinks – luckily, despite the little person’s extreme pickiness with food textures, he will eat Cola Bottles
You’re able to move around the cinema if you like – my little person doesn’t do this, but it’s great to see families enjoy the day out together without feeling guilty about ruining it for all the “serious-movie-buff-neurotypicals” in the seats around them.
Of course, even with all the adaptations, it doesn’t make the cinema trip super-smooth. We still had to get dressed, encourage a pee at the toilet (3rd time lucky), get over the emotional outburst of leaving Nanny behind, walk from the parking space to the cinema (tired leg syndrome, I carried all 3 stone of him there and back), we then had to debate with the confectionary lady about why he couldn’t have his Pick’n’Mix in a popcorn box instead of a paper bag, then we had the second emotional outburst when a main character died (thanks for the warning Beyoncé!), and then the third round of crying and wailing at the end because the little person wanted to live in the cinema and watch the film again.
Exhausted yet? Welcome to my world. Motherhood on speed.
That’s why it’s so important that local organisations get behind these initiatives. It might not seem like much, you might not fill a cinema screen on a Sunday morning, but you will be making such a huge difference to the quality of life of autistic little people and their big people who want to spend family time together, the way everyone else does, without feeling guilty, or ostracised or radically different in a bad way. I hear other cinemas have followed suit and I hope that big attractions and events will do likewise.
As for the film? Well it was darned good I must say. I enjoy these family movies anyway, but knew this one from the makers of Ice Age would be a much better outing than Sammy’s Great Escape was (a poor man’s Nemo!) In a nutshell Epic tells the story of an ongoing battle between the forces of good, who keep the natural world alive, and the forces of evil, who wish to destroy it. When a teenage girl finds herself magically transported into this secret universe, she teams up with an elite band of warriors and a crew of comical, larger-than-life figures to save their world… and ours. Throw in lots of sword fighting, bird riding, Beyoncé and Colin Farrell and, well, it was Avatar for kids. And we loved it, as I’m sure, will everyone else.
Because in our silly, upside-down, back-to-front world, we’re just like everyone else.