Knowing When To Push A Child With Sensory Issues

Here’s Max peering into the Disney Junior—Live On Stage! show at Disney California Adventure Park. We were there on vacation over the holiday break. While we spent a whole lot of time in the wondrous Cars Land, an amazing recreation of Radiator Springs, my Lightning-McQueen-obsessed child did agree to see other parts of the park, along with Disneyland.

At 11, Max still has a thing for Disney Junior! shows. For years, he’s watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in the mornings, sitting in my bed. And so when we wandered by the theater on Hollywood Boulevard right off bat he excitedly noticed the theater marquee. There are several shows throughout the day, and we stopped by for the next one.

We’d bought Max’s noise-blocking headphones on the trip, along with a back-up pair. But theaters are toughies because they’re dark. Max only started going to movie theaters last year (Monsters University lured him in). I told the cast members outside the theater that Max was fearful, and they let him stand behind the rope and avoid the crowded line. Then, right when the doors were about to open, they offered to let him be the first kid in.

Max turned them down.

Now, I knew that if I could just get Max inside, he’d enjoy the show. It features all his favorites: The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse gang, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Sofia the Great and Doc McStuffins.

“Come on, Max!” I said. “Let’s go in!”

I gave him a little tug.

“Nooooooo!” said Max, standing his ground.

I waited till everyone had gone into the theater and the show was going to start, and tried again: “Max, we can just go in now, and we can go to the back!”

“Nooooooo!” said Max.

At that point, I decided it was a lost cause. This is a line I regularly walk with Max: coaxing him, nudging him, even pushing him to experience new things but also knowing when to back off. It’s often this way with restaurants. If it were up to Max, we’d go to the same exact diner every time, but the rest of us are tired of that same exact diner. When we try a new spot we arrive right when it opens so we’re the only people there, and request a corner table (that’s comforting to Max).

The other week, we hit a local sushi place (Max is fond of miso soup and rice). There were just a few people in there but it was a little dim and Max started wailing. My husband and I weren’t going to give up. Dave took him for a walk, Sabrina and I grabbed a table and a few minutes later Dave came back in with Max, sat him down and let him watch the movie Cars 2 on his iPhone. Evening out: saved.

Max’s sensory issues have gotten better over the years, though they are still very much an issue for him. We know, though, that sometimes, if we take things slowly, he can push past his sensory challenges and his fears, too. That’s exactly what I did with the Disney Jr. show. When we returned the next morning, I struck up a conversation with a super-nice cast member, Mike. He had an idea: We’d let Max in a different door that would take him to the back of the theater. I told Max. We walked over to the door. He looked dubious.

Mike opened the doorway. Max tentatively went in.

For a few minutes, Max stood behind the curtain and peered in.

And then—holy Disney magic!—he smiled at me, and we took our seats in the back of the theater. And he had the biggest grin on his face the entire time.

And wouldn’t you know it: Max had me bring him back to the show the next day, too.

From my other blog:

A visit to Cars Land: Life is all downhill after this

How the Disney disability card works: 9 tips for kids with special needs

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