Imagine taking your son to a movie just to have a good time only to be greeted by jeers from fellow patrons, who then proceed to publicly shame you and your family into fleeing the theater.
That’s what Emily Colson, daughter of the late Christian leader Chuck Colson, said happened to her during a recent trip she took to a movie theater with her stepmother and her 23-year-old son, Max, who is autistic.
In a blog post titled, “Darkness in a Theater,” Colson recalled the anxiety over how Max would handle the theater experience as the film’s previews began to play last week.
“Sitting at the movies is one of our hard-earned victories. But after 23 years, I know that life with autism is predictably unpredictable,” she wrote. “I clutched my bag under my arm, with Max’s teddy bear peeking out of the top just like the Hollywood starlets carry their Chihuahuas.”
She claimed problems quickly started when Max shrieked, “I want to go home” as the first preview began to play. In contrast, when “The Muppets” appeared on the screen moments later during a different preview, he expressed excitement.
But once the film started, Max again said, “I want to go home.” Colson, who told Max to whisper, said she found herself in the middle of what she called her “own horror movie,” as patrons reportedly turned on Max.
“Are you going to make him be quiet?” one woman said, according to Colson.
But when Colson’s stepmother, Patty, tried to explain that Max is autistic, the family apparently received little sympathy.
“I know he is, but why should the rest of us have to suffer?” the woman allegedly responded, with her husband adding, “If you don’t make him be quiet I’m calling the manager!”
It apparently went downhill from there.
Colson described the emotions that coursed through her as the crowd reportedly jeered at her son, saying she felt as though she “desperately needed an oxygen mask to drop from the ceiling.”
The family quickly stood up to leave the theater, but Max’s mother said the humiliation and pain didn’t end there. Emily Colson claims applause erupted as she and her family moved out of their seats.
“It was the sound of an angry mob chasing us away with their jeers and taunts,” she wrote.
Colson continued, claiming theater patron yelled “and don’t come back” and “he’s retarded” as she attempted to shield her son as they walked toward the exit. The latter comment was so stunning, the mother wrote, that it forced her to pause and speak to the crowd before exiting.
“There is a lesson here,” she said she told patrons before leaving the theater. “A lesson that is so much more important than anything you will learn from this movie.”
The experience, Colson said, taught her a painful lesson about the evils that often reside in the human heart. She said it was a reminder of why the world needs Christmas — and of the sin she believes resides inside every individual.
Colson wrote a book about raising her son called “Dancing With Max” in 2010 and is well known in the autism support community for her candid commentary and the ongoing sharing about her and her son’s lives.