Autism Blog: Patience for progress

By Margarita Rivera, News 13
Last Updated: Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Please let this be the day.

With Romeo holding my hand, I step ahead to the window and collect our reserved movie tickets. We walk toward the cinema entrance and while Romeo shows hesitation, he prompts for me to pick him up and I am able to walk us through the front doors. My eyes widen briefly as the moment takes me by surprise. This is progress.

  • AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH BLOG: Our own Margarita Rivera is mom to 5-year-old Romeo, who is on the autism spectrum. Come with us as she shares their journey.

During attempts in the past years, combinations of the crowds, darkness and sound prevented us from completing the walk up the theater ramp. On all occasions, Romeo would halt at full force to avoid entering. With his hands to his ears, kicking and screaming, there was nothing that could be done to calm him long enough for easing tactics.

The estimation is that 90 percent of people on the autism spectrum are affected by sensory processing disorder. Our sensory process is the way our nervous system takes in messages from our senses – taste, touch, hearing, sight, smell, vestibular and proprioception – and converts it to the appropriate responses.

However, sensory processing disorder is when senses cannot translate for the appropriate responses. For those on the spectrum, it can result in a stimulation overload when the brain struggles to organize and process multiple senses that are being triggered at a given time. Reaction to this overwhelming response is usually what is noticed most by the public eye. Not every person reacts the same since senses are affected at a unique range for the individual.

In our case, the overstimulation for Romeo -- a dark theater to the eyes, a loud speaker to the ears, a cold room to the touch and a crowded space -- all proved to be too much for him to process. This has easily caused challenges when trying to experience the latest blockbuster on the big screen, visit the newest attraction in a theme park, shopping days at a mall or even trips to the grocery store.

On numerous occasions I have even declined attending events out of fear of ruining the event for others participating. Will they understand? We they stare? Will they judge?

Thankfully with therapies, sensory activities and lots of patience, we have been able to help along restructuring the way Romeo accepts the intake of these sensory messages for various activities. This is when early intervention becomes crucial, as science tells us that by the age of 6, the brain has reached 95 percent of its adult weight.

So here we are Theater 6. I carry him inside and let him down, continuing to hold his hand. I reject my own excitement as to avoid triggering any more uncertainty for him. I guide him beside me up the ramp but allow his curiosity to lead the way.

As we arrive at the top, Romeo takes one look at the rows of seats and all the people in their seats and prompts me to carry him once again. This is progress. Once seated, the movie begins and the same excitement he expressed when the movie trailer appeared on commercial, he expressed here in the theater. At this moment I am overjoyed!

I know I mentioned the importance of patience but did I mention the importance of having a sense of humor?

Well as you now know, Romeo likes to repeat everything he hears exactly how he hears it. I was so caught up in his progress to make it in the theater that I did not think of his reaction after making it in! He was sure to use his recent progress of speech as he repeated everything the movie characters were saying! Yes, word for word!

I couldn’t help but giggle and think, this is progress. Of course we understand this may not be funny to others trying to enjoy a movie, so we removed ourselves from the theater. We have since learned of sensory friendly show times provided by AMC theaters and we will be enjoying our movie this weekend!

We truly appreciate companies understanding of our sensory needs and helping raise awareness to the necessity as many on the spectrum continue to make their progress.