The NFL is Helping Fans with Autism Enjoy Games
Super Bowl LIV marked a significant shift with both teams (The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs) working hard to create a more inclusive environment for all NFL fans, especially those with autism spectrum disorder.
Autism Sensory Room at Hard Rock Stadium
During a press release before the big game, the Miami Dolphins and the Hard Rock Stadium announced that a new sensory room had been designed to ensure guests with autism had a comfortable experience on game day. Miami Dolphins VP of human resources and performance management Sam Coghill shared, “We always strive to accommodate and assist guests at Hard Rock Stadium, and we are excited about expanding our services for those with sensory processing and nursing needs,” He went on to explain that, “The creation of both of these spaces were driven by Hard Rock Stadium staff ideas and we knew we had a natural partner in the Marino Foundation to make the sensory room come to life. This was an extremely rewarding project, and we are thrilled to provide these safe and inclusive environments for all of our fans.”
The sensory room was for ASD guests to retreat to as a quiet and safe space. It came complete with a soft padded lining for lying down and relaxing as well as wall-mounted monitors for watching the game and other sensory items donated by The Dan Marino Foundation.
CEO of the Dan Marino Foundation, Mary Partin said, “The Dan Marino Foundation is excited to partner with Hard Rock Stadium and the Miami Dolphins in opening a Sensory Room for children with autism.” Mary continued describing the Hard Rock’s efforts gushing that, “The stadium has always provided amenities, including sound-reducing headphones and stress relievers. The new Sensory Room gives families the opportunity to attend games and concerts with peace of mind by knowing there is a quiet place for their child if needed.”
Super Bowl Sensory Room Staffed by Behavioral Professionals
Even more impressive is that the sensory room was staffed by InBloom Autism Services, so certified behavior professionals will be on hand. This helps to provide fans with ASD the support they may need for a completely comfortable experience. Also, tech giant Microsoft donated a tablet device to help manage the environment of the Sensory Room and Bose donated several noise-canceling headsets to be available during the Super Bowl and future events.
NFL Players Support Autism Speaks With My Cause My Cleats Campaign
Asides from Super Bowl LIV’s venue, the players on both teams, were highlighted in the media for supporting autism awareness. Last year several NFL teams chose to represent Autism Speaks for the My Cause My Cleats campaign. For this initiative, players donned limited edition cleats inspired by Autism Speaks during their games, which were later auctioned off on the NFL auction page. All of the proceeds from these auctions went to help drive the NFL’s mission to promote awareness for the needs of individuals with Autism and their families. One of those players was San Francisco 49ers, Mike McGlinchey. McGlinchey brought awareness to Autism to recognize these exceptional individuals, especially his brother.
Beyond the NFL, College and Event Stadiums Join Efforts for Autism
The autism community’s voice is finally being heard and the world is becoming more and more educated about their needs. Among these needs that are being addressed are children on the spectrum having the proper accommodations to be able to attend public events. Headlines over the last few years are spotlighting America’s compassionate attitude and powerful initiatives towards making spectrum-friendly events a new standard for all concerts, sporting events, and outdoor activities. One of the most recent examples of this is at Oklahoma State University (OSU), where they have just launched a new program to make Boone Pickens Stadium more autism-friendly.
Oklahoma State University Partners with the Autism Center of Tulsa
It all started when the OSU football announcer reached out to the Co-Founder of ‘Autism Friendly Locations,’ Jennifer Sollars Miller, with a desire to make people on the spectrum more included in their games. From there, OSU joined forces with the Autism Center of Tulsa to create spectrum-friendly experiences that kids would enjoy at their football games. The Autism Center was more than ready to help them understand the challenges involved with taking an autistic child football games.
OSU’s meetings with Miller proved to be game-changing. OSU decided to enact an immediate initiative to implement autism awareness training for their staff. OSU now also voluntarily offers “I’m A-OK” stickers to fans on the spectrum. These unique badges let stadium staffers know that they could need help concerns that are autism-related. With their training, staff members will be able to make these fan’s experiences at football games more fun. The stickers are designed to be discreet and are of course voluntary.
In addition to training for their staff, OSU also has designated ‘safe zones’ that people can retreat to in order to get away from the crowds, or in the event that a child is having a severe meltdown. Having safe zones like these benefits parents as well as children, who might just as well need a break from the chaos that is football season.
Two NFL Teams Stand Out for Autism Inclusion Efforts
While over 60 other pro football teams have opened sensory rooms, two NFL teams in particular that made news headlines for significant strides in the initiative to make games more comfortable for ASD children are the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks.
Minnesota Vikings and KultureCity Unveil Sensory Room
Just in time for their 2019 season, and in partnership with 3M, The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, and autism awareness foundation KultureCity, the Minnesota Vikings unveiled an inclusive sensory space in U.S. Bank Stadium. Designed by KultureCity, a non-profit organization based in Birmingham, Alabama, the sensory room caters to fans with Autism as well as down syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, and other conditions requiring a safe and soothing atmosphere. The fully decked out space allows individuals, regardless of their ability, to enjoy games at U.S. Bank Stadium confidently, knowing that if need be they have a quiet space to retreat to for a break. Thanks to their partnership with Fraser Pediatric Therapy, the room is always staffed with two licensed behavioral specialists for each one of the team’s home games.
“Our continued focus is on elevating the fan experience for all Minnesota Vikings fans. Games should be as accessible as possible, particularly for fans with special needs, and we are proud to work with organizations like KultureCity to take this significant step forward.”, said Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren.
Located on the Upper Concourse, the 6-foot-by-12-foot, sound-proof space includes a sensory active wall display, toys, dim lighting, bean bag chairs, and sensory bags. The Vikings Official Science Partner 3M has also provided noise-canceling headphones and earplugs for those who enter the space.
Seattle Seahawks Offer Game Day Kits for Autism
In 2018 The Seattle Seahawks and Seahawks Women’s Association partnered up with A OK Autism to provide toolkits to make CenturyLink Field and gameday activities more user-friendly for fans on the spectrum.
The Seahawks were contacted by Jennifer Sollars Miller and Michelle Wilkerson, co-founders of the Autism Center of Tulsa and creators of Autism Friendly Locations program, in July to gauge their interest in the program.
Two mothers of autistic children, Michelle Wilkerson and Jennifer Sollars Miller, were able to help the team create what they called ‘sensory sacks’ for those in attendance with ASD. Anyone who wanted could grab one of these bags that are filled with tools such as earplugs, an “I’m A-OK” badge, sensory toys, a wristband with the child’s row and seat numbers in case they got lost, and a schedule to help keep track of the game. Another quiet room was also created at Camping World Stadium, where families could go if their children found the game to be too overwhelming.
Autism Awareness and Major Events
According to a census taken by Autism Speaks, over 2 million people in the United States are on the autism spectrum. 1 out of every 88 of those people are children. For some individuals, an autism diagnosis brings with it limitations in sensory processing, including but not limited to extreme sensitivity to certain sounds, smells, and tastes. They may respond in these circumstances by becoming distracted or preoccupied, and can even display behaviors like aggression or avoidance by shutting down or ‘checking out’ of the environment.
Although there has been progress, creating awareness for the community of children with ASD can be difficult. Children on the spectrum still have a hard time attending these types of events. The number of autism diagnoses is growing, making it more important than ever to ensure these special children are accommodated and included in planning for major events.
Keeping Your Child Safe During Crowded Events
For many parents with a child who has autism the idea of taking their child to a football stadium brings up many challenges. The biggest being the fear of losing your child in the crowd. Of course the new sensory rooms and kits are great for helping your child find comfort in an uncomfortable situation, but keeping your child safe is another matter altogether.
Parents with the AngelSense GPS for autism often tell us how it has helped give them the confidence to attend such events. Where they used to avoid crowded places, they now enjoy outings knowing they can find their loved one right away if they get separated.