With Pete not living at home with PJ and I right now, our family time is very valuable to me. Even if it's a struggle to remain civil with Pete, we want PJ to feel secure, happy, and loved. With that in mind, we have tried to plan for Pete to be here as much as it's possible for someone who works nights and doesn't live here. It's not the easiest feat ever executed, but we try to make it work as best as possible as we navigate the damn dark forest that is our marriage.
This past Saturday morning, we planned to attend a showing of Monster's U at our local AMC Theater. The showing was a special, "sensory-friendly" showing, meaning that the lights were kept dim (instead of the theater being in darkness), the sound was to be turned down, and the "Silence is Golden" rule didn't apply. This is a welcome respite for families of children with special needs. We had tried taking PJ to a showing last week. It was an ambitious decision- PJ was tired from last-day-of-school festivities and often has trouble controlling his body when he is worn out. Before we got halfway through he was writhing about, humming loudly, and engaging in an endless monologue about Thomas the Train. When the annoyed looks started flying thick and furious, we decided to leave. The opportunity to allow PJ to experience the movie-theater experience and allow him to be himself was too good to pass up.
We got to the AMC in Cherry Hill, NJ on Saturday morning and as the theater filled up, I felt comfortable and happy. A teen sat in front of PJ, screaming and violently throwing himself back and forth in his seat. Hardly an eye was batted. PJ kept sliding down in his seat so the seat would slap the bottom of his feet. It all worked.
The movie was scheduled to start at 10am, with no previews to take up valuable stay-still-and-concentrate time. By 10 after, the movie had not started. The kids all waited patiently- no meltdowns or crying, much to the relief of all the parents. Twenty minutes, then thirty went by, without so much as a word from management or staff concerning the delay. Exasperated parents stepped out to find an explanation, and kept coming back having been given the promise of "just three more minutes".
When 40 minutes had gone by and with the screen still dark, Pete went out to find a member of the management team to provide an explanation. A young, scared-looking shift supervisor finally addressed the crowd, explaining that there had been "technical difficulties" and that patrons could either get a refund or stay for the next showing, which would not be sensory-friendly. When I tried to ask why this announcement took over 40 minutes, he fled the room. Disappointed children filed out behind him with their families.
Thankfully, there were no meltdowns or behavioral problems while the kids waited. By the grace of God, the theater was calm and the kids were content- likely attributed to the hundreds of collective dollars parents and caregivers spent on snacks. A cursory glance around the room told me that there were a variety of special needs represented in the room. My son has Autism, and for those children, keeping to a schedule is critical. PJ is young enough to be a little more go-with-the-flow but for the most part, if you tell a child with Autism that you are seeing a movie at 10am...well, it's better to stick to it. For many of these families, for whatever the reason may be, this type of program is the only way they can enjoy the experience of seeing a movie on the big screen.
We waited in a long, slow line to have our tickets refunded, and as we waited, my anger mounted. I was not at all angry about the technical problems- those things happen and there is no way to control that. I was angry that it took 40 minutes for a staff member to address the crowd. I was furious that said staff member was not management. I was annoyed that over 20 minutes past what was supposed to be the movie start time, new patrons were entering, which meant that ticket were still being sold even though it seemed unlikely that the movie was going to happen. I was incensed that AMC would offer a program like this when it was clear that staff and management had little to no understanding of the population they were supposed to be serving. It is not enough to merely offer space, particularly when your company is drawing profit from the program. This wasn't a free movie, and those weren't free snacks. It was disappointing, disheartening, and embarrassing.
I was furiously Tweeting the details of the morning, and received a response from an AMC Theaters staff member via Twitter. I was asked to supply my contact information, but four days later, I have not heard a word back. It is not likely we will ever patronize AMC Theaters again. I will contact Autism Speaks to suggest that they reach out to AMC to make sure other families aren't treated this way. And, in true Brie fashion, I will run my damn mouth, making sure that a shit ton of people hear about this.
In the meantime, I'll wait to hear back from AMC Theaters. If you like, let them know you're disappointed, too. You can find their Twitter feed here, and company contact information here.