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Presuming competence at the movies

autism parenting positive mindset public outings Jul 23, 2023

This weekend I took my 12-year-old nonspeaking son to see Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. 

It was against my better judgment. And it was awesome!

Here's some background: I've long been an advocate of taking nonspeakers to the movies. Since my son was small, I've taken him to the movies to practice his movie-going skills.

We started with $3 movies, often not lasting through the previews, but hey, it was only $3 so who cares? Until a couple of years ago, he spent most of the movie quietly watching favorite videos on his iPad and only occasionally glancing up at the screen. I allowed it, because I knew that was his way of managing his sensory experience.

Last summer, he was finally able to put down his iPad and actually watch the entire movie. We still only attend movies with sparse crowds, and only in the morning when his sensory tolerance is best. However, this summer, we're there almost every Saturday morning. 

It's become our summer schedule.

When it comes to presuming competence, I'm a leader. Now that my son is almost a teenager, I've stopped assuming he wants to see kid cartoons. I've been asking him which movies he wants to see.

Last week, he chose something age-appropriate: Transformers.

This surprised me. He's never been interested in Transformers before. He's never really been interested in any superhero-type movies. But he picked it, so we went.

I had every reason to be nervous.

I knew it would be loud. I brought his headphones and for the first time, he didn't take them off.

I knew it would be scary. When the movie began, he got scared, but then my action-adventure lover quickly began enjoying the robot-on-robot fights.

I knew it would be overstimulating. He started to have two meltdowns, but miraculously, we were able to co-regulate quickly.

I assumed he wouldn't be able to follow the plot. I was wrong.

He expressed suspense during the suspenseful scenes.

He laughed appropriately at all the jokes.

He cheered when Bumblebee came back to life, because who doesn't love Bee?

He showed me he's ready for PG-13 movies. He showed me that I still have room to grow when it comes to presuming competence.

School starts in just a couple of weeks, and my free Zoom consultation schedule is full. After this weekend's experience, I've renewed my belief in presuming competence in our nonspeaking students. Today I found myself enthusiastically assuring parents that yes, even if your student can't show mastery of an academic subject, they probably understand it. 

Believe me, I know. They understand everything. Sometimes, in our emotional exhaustion, we forget.

They're whole people, underneath the autism and apraxia. And no matter how much you presume competence, no matter if you're a so-called autism professional, they can and will still surprise and amaze you.

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