The burst of cheers as the winning kick is taken, the chant of the opponent’s club song, the smell of sausage rolls. For most people, these sensations are part and parcel of the excitement of game day. But for someone living with Autism, they may be overwhelming. Now, there’s a growing trend for clubs to introduce safe spaces so that fans with sensory processing issues can take a little time out without missing out on the action.
Here at Mable, it’s not unusual to receive requests from clients looking for an independent support worker to accompany them to a sporting match. But for kids with autism or disabilities that cause sensory processing issues, it’s an occasion that can bring a host of challenges.St Kilda’s new room, created in partnership with Amaze, came about from awareness the club gained through their program SaintsPlay, which encourages children with developmental challenges to play AFL. The room, kitted out of course in St Kilda red, white and black, is fitted with dim lighting, lounges, pillows and bean bags. Visitors don’t have to miss out on the game, which plays silently on a large screen as well as separate TV screens with reduced noise.
For kids who do need a little time out from the game itself, noise-reducing headphones, blocks, play doh and football-shaped stress balls are available.
As reported here by the ABC, Amaze chief executive Fiona Sharkie highlighted that creating an inclusive experience for people with special needs and their families to enjoy the game is an important obligation for modern day clubs.“One of the great things about the room is that it’s inside the stadium. It’s where the action is and families can come and go as they please.”Will sensory rooms become the new norm in AFL? St Kilda is not the first club in the AFL to introduce sensory rooms at their home grounds, with Hawthorn’s MCG Stadium and Geelong’s GMHBA Stadium also featuring dedicated quiet spaces. Hawthorn partnered with Afford (The Australian Foundation for Disability) to create their Sensory Friendly Space, which features both calming and stimulating zones, a cocoon area for visitors to chill out as well as a light wave floor.
The home ground of the Cats has gone one step further, with GMHBA Stadium announcing earlier this year that it was Australia’s first Sensory Inclusive Stadium, offering sensory backpacks containing, amongst other things, fidget toys and noise cancelling headphones. The rooms have been so well received that the AFL is considering mandatory sensory rooms across all clubs’ home venues.
A growing awareness of sensory inclusive experiences. It’s not just the AFL that’s getting on board. In April 2018, West Tigers launched a partnership with Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), announcing the availability of Autism Friendly Rooms at ANZ Stadium.The initiatives are part of a growing global awareness of the need for sensory-inclusive spaces for sports-fans. The Tigers cite the English Premier League as an inspiration, and the NBA partnered with nonprofit KultureCity to make 19 arenas sensory inclusive last year – committing to the creation of permanent spaces that are available daily for those with sensory needs.It’s also not only sporting venues that have recognised the importance of sensory inclusive experiences, with a range of businesses around Australia with similar offerings. As reported here by news.com, Coles rolled out quiet hours in 2017, and Event Cinemas are amongst the first cinema chains offering sensory movie days featuring modified lighting and sound. Museums and popular attractions around the country are also following suit with specialised exhibitions, spaces or dedicated time zones for visitors with sensory processing needs.
Do you have kids who’d like to try their hand at a little soccer? Are you based in Sydney?
The Purple Hearts at Randwick City Football Club are currently looking for young players to join their club! The program is free of charge and open to kids aged from 7 years old. More information can be found here.
Looking for someone to support you and your family to attend a footy game? You can search the profiles of independent support workers based on their skills and experience, as well as their interests and passions. Find someone in your local area who loves the game as much as you do.