The Beautiful Game: Autism and Football
Updated: Jun 16, 2018
With the World Cup starting and me being a huge football fan, I thought it only right to speak about football this week. Apologies to those who may not be a fan but give the blog a read and see what you think, it's far more than just football. I am looking for what people would like to hear about in future posts so please get in touch
For me, the love of football started at the age of 5. My dad had taken me along to the County Ground Northampton, and told my Mum that she would probably need to collect me at half time…as it went I was mesmerised….the floodlights, the chanting, the tackles…everything about it changed my world. Here I am 33 years later, 2 League Titles and several relegations later. For me football is far more than the 90 minutes on the pitch, it's about the friends, and most importantly it’s the fact that all the supporters I am with care only about the Badge, and that’s something we all have in common.
Alongside my daily obsession with football, I have spent the last decade working as a teacher in mainstream and special needs education, until April this year when I have started up my own business which is designed to support people on the autism spectrum to access employment. Having worked with young people on the autism spectrum, I saw a group of people with a huge range of talents, and nationally just 16% of autistic adults find themselves in full-time employment. This is something which we will change.
So how does my love of football and my commitment to helping people on the autism spectrum meet? I spoke with my beloved Northampton Town Football Club and started discussions about how the two could work together, and we will have some really exciting news on this soon. As part of my research I have recently visited the sensory room rooms at both Arsenal and Watford Football Club. These facilities provide access for people with a range of sensory issues to watch football in an environment which is personalised to them. The noise, smells and atmosphere which some people crave, will be enough to put others off football, and these rooms offer the chance for people to support their teams.
The thing which struck me about both of these facilities was the focus on the individual person using the room and making sure their needs are met. Both clubs had a slightly different focus, and differing facilities, but both were committed to ensuring that supporters of their teams could come and watch football in an environment where they felt safe. It was about doing everything we could to ensure supporters, regardless of background/diagnosis/race/religion could support their team.
Both clubs gave supporters superb views of the pitch, and a choice of seating to watch the game from (Bean Bags, Chairs, Stalls), and if they needed to walk around or take time away from the game they could. Each had a separate sensory space with a mixture of equipment to help the supporters feel comfortable…again all of this could be personalised for each individual…colours, patterns, sounds could all be adapted to help create a supportive environment.
Arsenal and Watford took great pride in their facility, and also in the way that supporters who had used the facility would now attend the games in different areas of the ground. For me in football, the only thing that really matters is the badge on the front of the shirt, and in the days of 60,000+ crowds week-in-week-out it is great to see that even at the highest level, clubs haven’t lost their focus on the differing needs of its supporters. As a society we have a long way to go in recognising that everyone is unique, but I hope football can lead the way in changing people’s perceptions about autism.
This post is written before we visit the Autism in Football area at the Autism Show in London on Friday June 15th, see our social media channels for coverage of this event (twitter facebook Instagram)
We believe that with small changes the workplace can become so much more accessible to people who want to work. From my experience the majority of autistic people do not want charity, they want opportunity. Work with us to help a create spectrum of opportunities which will benefit all of those involved.
Contact us and find out how we can work together. Thomas@track.org.uk
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