A local mother is organizing movie times at Hoboken’s new theatre for children with special needs, including her autistic daughter.
Danielle Puro, a lifelong Hoboken resident, said the movies are “sensory-friendly,” meaning the lights are up and the sound is low.
The first showtime will be at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6 at Clearview Cinemas, 415 14th St. The first movie will be “The Backyardigans,” an hour-long feature film based on what is her daughter’s favorite television show.
“Anyone can come in, but no one can be asked to leave [if their child has an outburst],” she said. “There’s different [stimuli] that can set them off. They can’t control it.”
Puro is working with the city to start a walk for autism in April.
She said movie times like this are available in New York City and Elizabeth, N.J., but New York can be expensive, and Elizabeth is too far.
Now, people are contacting her from surrounding counties because they are interested in coming to Hoboken for the monthly movie times. Other parents have distributed Puro’s information to special needs classes. She has more than 20 parents interested in coming to the special showings and more contacting her every day.
Unfortunately, Puro is covering the cost of the movie showings by herself right now. Clearview is charging $75 (non-refundable) to hold the theatre for every showtime. When Puro provides the movie, as in this case, the theatre will charge the kids only $3.50 for admission, including popcorn and a soda. If the theater provides the film, they will charge $8.50. So Puro is looking for local sponsors to cover the theatre holding cost.
She said anyone interested in sponsoring a show or several shows can contact her directly at (201) 669-5179.
Getting a diagnosis
Puro’s daughter Page, who is two years and five months old, was diagnosed with autism in October, but just getting the diagnosis was no easy task.
Puro suspected earlier than October that Page was not developing the same as the other kids.
“I kept telling the doctors that something is wrong with her,” she said. “She wasn’t finding her hands and she wasn’t crawling like the other children.”
Frustrated, Puro finally demanded her doctor do something. Puro was soon contacted by an early intervention specialist who suspected Page was showing early signs of autism.
But for an autism diagnosis, Puro needed Page to see a neurologist. Unfortunately, Puro had no health care coverage and was looking down the barrel of a $3,000 neurology bill.
Saved by a knock on the door
After trying to organize fundraisers to no avail and asking around town for help, she finally met her “angel,” Kimberly Glatt, a former municipal judge who was running for mayor.
Putting politics aside, Glatt could see Puro was upset about something when she knocked on Puro’s door. Once Puro told Glatt her story, Glatt gave her the number of her neurologist.
According to Puro, Glatt told her to raise what money she could for the visit and Glatt would pay the rest.
“Mother to mother, this wasn’t a political thing,” Puro said. “She said, ‘I don’t even want your vote.’ ”
When Puro contacted the neurologist’s office, Glatt had already made them aware of the situation and they told Puro that the visit would only cost $500.
“She was my angel sent to me,” Puro said.
Now Page is seeing a therapist four times per week and is learning sign language.
Joining the cause
Puro has been so active trying to create local opportunities for autistic children in the last few months that last week she was appointed chairperson of the Hudson County committee for Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization.
“With Autism Speaks behind me, I’m getting a lot more done,” she said.
She is working with the city to start a walk for autism in April, national autism awareness month.
Puro was asked by a friend, hypothetically, if she would trade in her child for a non-special needs child.
“I said, no, because it wouldn’t be my daughter,” Puro said. “This is who she is. Not for a million dollars.”
Run-ins with parents
She said she has had run-ins with parents annoyed by outbursts in the grocery store, and she has overheard people making fun of her daughter.
“I thought I would have had trouble with the [other] kids, but the kids were more understanding than the adults,” she said. “[The adults] don’t understand [autism], and they don’t want to be bothered until it affects their family.”
Puro began handing out a piece of paper: Ten things an autistic child wants you to know. It includes tips like, “I am first and foremost a child. I have autism. I am not primarily autistic.”
She said it is believed that people like Albert Einstein and Leonardo DiVinci may have been autistic.
“Maybe one day these children will be just like them,” she said.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.