Denver Nuggets’ Gary Harris gives holiday cheer to families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Gary Harris is well-aware of the challenges of having a family member with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). So being able to help other families dealing with a similar situation is important to him.

“I feel like it means a lot to me, kids with autism and sensory difficulties. Especially having a little brother with troubles with that as well,” Harris told Nuggets.com. “To come and give back. Growing up with a little brother like that, it definitely hits home for me.”

On Friday afternoon, Harris teamed up with the Joshua School to provide a holiday movie experience at AMC Highlands Ranch 24 for families with preschool-aged children dealing with ASD. Families were given gift bags filled with sensory-friendly toys and Nuggets tickets along with complementary popcorn and soft drinks. Harris personally purchased all of those items.

“I think its huge to give back and especially with the Joshua School, the things that they do are great,” Harris said. “Especially for these little kids, for them to come out and enjoy a movie for the holidays is great. I’m glad I can be a part of it.”

For those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), engaging in activities in a public setting can prove to be a daunting experience.

A routine social outing, like going to see a movie or eating at a restaurant, sometimes presents challenges for those who have ASD, a condition that deals with sensory sensitivities. Those experiences at times can be overwhelming and cause meltdowns or anxiety.

Still, despite those difficulties, continuing to persist with social development is essential for children on ASD. At the event, the movie theater was set up to be a sensory-friendly environment. Accommodations like leaving the lights on and lowering the volume along with breaks were made to help create the children have an enjoyable night.

“As we grow up, experiences are what we learn from,” Joshua School Program Director Jamie Cohen said. “If a child has some harder behaviors, especially in terms of sensory [issues], [like] if its too dark, too loud or chaotic, they aren’t going to want to go to that environment…It’s nice to know that the neighbor sitting next to you is going to be understanding if anything does happen and really accepting. So, our kids can learn from this experience. They can learn what it’s like to be in a movie theater.”

Brittany Yarbrough, a mother whose son, Hunter, is on the spectrum, appreciated being in a supportive outing for her family.

“We’ve never been to a movie before with Hunter,” Yarbrough said. “The reason why we never tried to go to the movies, we don’t go out to restaurants, we don’t go out as a family at all because people just don’t get it.”

She added, “When your child starts to meltdown and scream, you get the looks or you get kicked out. So to be able to be here with all of these people who just get it and understand [is great]. It’s really big to be here with everyone.”

Before the movie theater started playing the film Playmobil, Harris gave all of the families their gift packages one-by-one and spent time interacting with each group. The shared experience clearly mattered to the Nuggets shooting guard.

“It’s huge, whenever you can put a smile on their face, its great,” Harris said. “Just to see the excitement and joy they have. To come out, see this movie and give a few presents, is what its all about.

He added with a smile, ”The kids were great. They were really into it. Some kids wanted more than one present but I don’t blame them.”

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