How to prepare your sensory sensitive child for action-packed movies

Children's Health

by Bradley R. Berg, MD, PhD, FAAP, FACPE

Dec 22, 2015

Some children can’t get enough of the loud sounds and flashing lights that come with seeing a blockbuster action movie at the theater. But there is a subset of children who are very sensitive to loud noises and a lot of stimuli.

Whether these children have specific diagnoses like autism, Asperger’s, or a sensory processing disorder, or are just more sensitive to these over-the-top films, it is important for parents to know how their child will react before they take them to the new Star Wars film or any other big-budget action movie.

One way to explore your child’s reaction to this type of film is to have them watch a movie at home with the volume turned up higher than normal. See how the child reacts to this stimuli. If you find that they are having trouble with the intense lights and sounds, there are a few ways you can prepare for a night out at the movie theater.

Build up to action-packed movies

Try starting with a film that is less stimulating, like a Disney or family film. As the child becomes comfortable with going to the theater, you can try screening a faster-paced film, but allow the child to wear ear plugs. With surround sound, children can often feel as if the sound is coming at them from all angles. Having ear plugs will allow them to hear the movie at a lower volume.

Get a seat in the back

Parents can also try sitting further back in the theater so the affected child isn’t completely immersed in the action that is happening on screen.

Avoid 3-D movies

It might also be a good idea to avoid 3-D movies with children who are sensitive to loud noises and flashing lights. The three-dimensionality is going to be a lot more stimulating than a typical movie.

Judge age and maturity level

Aside from making sure your child is ready for a blockbuster action movie, you should ask yourself if the movie is age-appropriate for your child. A lot of movies have content that might not be suitable for younger children. Ratings systems have changed so much since the early days of film, and parents need to make sure their children are mentally mature enough to go to these types of movies.

You might have a child who is 10, 11, or 12, but is not at a maturity level to be able to handle a PG-13 movie and not be effected by it.

Parents shouldn’t avoid having a movie night out with their children. It’s really about making smart choices with regards to the movie’s content, the style of the movie and its appropriateness in relation to the age and mental maturity of the child.

About the Author

Bradley R. Berg, MD, PhD, FAAP, FACPE is division director of pediatrics for Baylor Scott and White Health Austin/Round Rock region. He is a graduate of the University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry, and completed his pediatric residency at Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He is also the founder of Humanity for Children, a nonprofit which establishes pediatric clinics and micro-finance projects in East Africa.

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