Autism And The Movies: We Made History

4 Oct

Originally published in on October 1, 2009

We woke up unusually early that day, excited and buoyant. Even Alphonse, who wakes up late most days, didn’t complain when we woke him up. “It’s your day, anak,” I whispered gently to this sleeping baby, all five feet and four inches of him. He stirred a little, blinked a few times, then jumped immediately upright like a coiled spring. Hand in hand, Alphonse and I danced happily, albeit gingerly, while I sang “I’ve got a feeling that today’s gonna be a good  day…” (to the tune of Black Eyed Peas’ “I’ve Got A Feeling”).

It was. On a cloudy, overcast Friday, a day before Typhoon Ondoy ravaged the city and made history, we made a different kind of history.

hk-at-the-movies-copyThey say all big trees come from little seeds and in this instance, it started with a mother’s wish. In April of this year, a mother wrote “Autism and The Movies” for; she cross posted this piece in her blog. In it, she voiced her dream of being able to see a movie with her son with autism even just once. She vowed to write letters to Autism Society Philippines and to cinemas around the city, but even before the first letters came out of her pen, she received a hopeful email from ASP’s President, Ms. Dang Koe. Ms. Koe wrote, “As you can see, our ASaP (ASP’s newsletter) Chief  Tiff (Tiffany Tan) follows your blog…How can we work on this? I’m a movie lover too, and would love Gio to watch with us.”

I am that mother.

SFM 03

ASP Pres Dang Koe with the valiant men of SM's Committee for Disability Affairs

But where I was thinking of a smaller test audience, Ms. Koe and  her colleagues at the ASP were already looking at the bigger picture. Within days, they had started corresponding with SM’s AVP for Operations and Chair of SM’s Committee for Disability Affairs, Engr. Bien Mateo. In a matter of months, they had worked out a plan for the first ever sensory-friendly cinema screening in the Philippines (or in Asia for that matter) for children with autism and other disabilities.

Alphonse at the movies

Alphonse at the movies

Sensory-friendly screenings are designed to minimize averse sensory experiences and maximize enjoyment. Low lights are left on during the show,  sound volume is reduced, and film previews are left out. Children can move around and make noise, allowing them the freedom to enjoy the movies without social limitations to hamper their experience. Truly, the autism-friendly cinema or sensory-friendly movie is an innovative approach to autism and the movie experience, and yet, it has only been in existence for a very short time.

In 2007, Ms. Marianne Ross and her seven-year-old daughter with autism were asked to leave a movie theater when Meaghan started flapping her hands and jumping up and down. Ms. Ross turned this negative experience around by jumpstarting a program that aimed to provide a safe entertainment haven for children like her daughter. The first SF movie was a success in November of 2007 and, with support from Autism Society of America and AMC Entertainment, owner of AMC Cinemas chain, the program finally went national in April of this year.

Across the globe, the UK’s National Autistic Society and Picturehouse Cinemas partnered in January 2009 to start their own autism-friendly film screenings. At any one time in England, 16 movie theaters across the country host these screenings once a month. They have gotten so organized that they already have a dedicated page in the NAS website solely for screening schedules.      

When Cinema 3 of SM North EDSA’s The Block SFM 04opened its doors to its patrons on Friday morning, the lines were long. Two hundred students from different schools and institutions (Bridges, ALRES, Cradles of Learners, Immaculate Concepcion SPED, New Hope, Wise Light, Stimulation and Therapeutic Activity Center), all accompanied by their teachers, parents, or caregivers filled the cinema lobby. Alphonse and I were also  invited. Our very first movie felt like a real date.

As expected, our children screamed and cried, and yet, they also laughed. Some walked around and roamed the aisles, yet many more stayed in their seats. Alphonse hooted many times, jumped up and down on his seat, stood up twice to walk around and use the restroom, and flapped his arms more times than Up’s colorful but flightless bird, Kevin. Still, he sat through almost the entire movie and behaved like a seasoned moviegoer, munching on a bucket of popcorn. He gave up only around 15 minutes before the end when the sound of barking dogs unnerved him. Not bad for his very first cinema experience.

SFM 02

Alphonse watching his very first movie, "Up"

I spent more time watching Alphonse than I did the movie, gazing at his face as it expressed emotions, watching his eyes light up in excitement. In truth, I had tears in my eyes the entire time. Holding my son’s hands in the semi-darkness of the movie theater, I felt my heart almost burst with happiness many times.

I think Alphonse and I are definitely luckier than Ms. Ross. I didn’t even have to wait for support from Autism Society Philippines and SM’s Commitee for Disability Affairs. They took it upon themselves to make this possible for my son and for many children like him who have not had the privilege of enjoying a simple movie even once. They made this dream come true, and in the process, made autism history come alive for us. It is this kind of commitment, compassion, and kinship that make their joint endeavors truly worth supporting.

Come and be a part of more history in the making with Autism Society Philippines’ 11th National Conference on Autism on October 24-25, 2009 at the SMX Convention Center, SM Mall of Asia.


9 Responses to “Autism And The Movies: We Made History”

  1. julie October 4, 2009 at 12:51 pm #

    Way to go ASP and SM! Woot, woot!

    Woot, woot!~♥Kittymama

  2. Sandee Masigan October 4, 2009 at 2:14 pm #

    Cheers Kitty Mama! Here’s to more sensory-sensitive screenings…more movie dates for you and Alphonse. =)

    Thanks, Sandee! Our next date is for G-Force! ~♥Kittymama

  3. Casdok October 4, 2009 at 3:58 pm #

    So pleased you got your wish!
    (I also watch C more than the film!)

    Hi, Casdok! I missed you! Hugs!!!! Thank you for dropping by and saying hello again. You are my inspiration. ~♥Kittymama

  4. Precious October 4, 2009 at 4:35 pm #

    Good job to all who organized this! 🙂

    I agree! Congratulations to ASP and SMNE again! ~♥Kittymama

  5. Vivian October 4, 2009 at 5:55 pm #

    Hi! This is Vivian Aguilar here. Just wanna tell you that I’m so happy for you…(you finally got your wish!). You’re such an inspiration.

    Aww, thanks, Vivian. I think, however, that the real inspiration is Alphonse, and how he makes me want to be a better person everyday. ~♥Kittymama

  6. nadine October 4, 2009 at 8:58 pm #

    Good day! I posted the link of this article on my facebook account, hoping that other therapists, teachers, parents and other individuals would read your article. I hope it’s ok with you. Thank you! 🙂

    Thank you for considering my article worthy to be shared with others. Drop by anytime! ~♥Kittymama

  7. NinJas! October 5, 2009 at 1:33 pm #

    Awwwww, Fonzie looks so happy in the pic! Pls send hi-res version 😀

    Will do, sis. 🙂 ~♥Kittymama

  8. Shai June 20, 2010 at 4:44 am #

    Hi Kitty Mama! Beautiful article, it brought me to tears…

    I’m a SpEd teacher and I’m planning to include bringing my students to a movie in my syllabus since a lot of the parents expressed a great deal of wanting to bring their angels to a movie with them. I tried searching for answers on the net if SM The Block offers such great service throughout the year but I’m afraid they don’t based from the articles I’ve read. When do you think the next Sensory-friendly Movie will happen in SM The Block? I tried searching in ASP’s website if they have a schedule for it but found no answer.

    I really hope I could bring my students along with their parents to a sensory-friendly movie and give them the same heart-felt experience you had.

    God bless.

  9. KC'sMommy July 12, 2010 at 5:52 am #

    Wow way to go Alphonse! We are dreaming of the day K.C. is able to tolerate the movies! We always feel so bad going without him to the movies.
    Big Brother and I and Adam went but our respite worker wasn’t watching K.C. properly and he got burned badly. This just happened 3 days ago. Terrible.
    Sorry to vent.
    So very happy for you Alphonse!

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