Quiet rooms shift goal posts for football fans with autism
4 May 2019 at 12:00 pm
Going to see a live AFL match is a fun, exciting night out to see your favourite team in the flesh. But for a person with autism, it can be the exact opposite.
The bright lights, flashing screens, the roaring of the crowds and smells of meat pies and hot chips can quickly become overwhelming for a person with autism as they aren’t able to filter sounds, sights or smells, absorbing them all at once.
To make the experience of live match enjoyable for all fans, AFL club St Kilda has installed a pop-up “quiet room” in its home ground stadium at Docklands.
Fans can now watch the game on a muted TV in the dimly-lit room, equipped with St Kilda coloured ear muffs, putty and building blocks for adults and children to take some time out, while still being able to enjoy the game.
Clair White, a spokesperson for St Kilda, told Pro Bono News making the quiet rooms happen was an important part of the inclusive culture the club wished to promote.
“We’ve done a lot of work in the disability space, LGBTIQ+ space and across our local community, so the development of a quiet room at our Marvel Stadium home games is an extension of that work,” White said.
“We know that for some people, the sights, smells and sounds at an AFL game can be overwhelming and can mean that people cannot enjoy the full game-day experience.”
She said the rooms had been received incredibly well by the club’s fans.
“We’ve heard from many families who until the development of this space couldn’t come to the football together,” she said.
Geelong and Hawthorn are the only other clubs that have installed quiet rooms in their home grounds.
Andrew Whitehouse, chief officer of the Autism Co-operative Research Centre, told Pro Bono News that installing quiet rooms in public spaces was as important as wheelchair access.
“What we know now is that there is a large proportion of our population that has a lot of difficulties processing sensory information,” Whitehouse said.
“If we are not providing a way for people on the spectrum to access all of the things that we take for granted and contribute to our quality of life, we’re shutting them out.”
He said given the influence the AFL has in Australian culture, clubs recognising it as an issue was a “watershed” moment.
“Footy clubs taking the lead on this says that we as a society absolutely understand the needs of the full range of humanity and that is wonderful,” Whitehouse said.
White said the AFL had been extremely encouraging of St Kilda’s pop-up room, and she encouraged all clubs to follow their lead.
Whitehouse said that it was vital it was implemented across the entire code.
“Footy clubs tell us all the time they stand for their fans, and what we know is that there is a substantial proportion of their fans who adore the football club and are missing out on having that wonderful experience of seeing their team run around the park,” he said.
“These rooms provide the means for them to do that, and so for me, this is just such an important way for football clubs to let their supporters know that they are for them.”