A leading autism advocate Anna Kennedy OBE was invited to see Arsenal’s viewing area at Emirates for autistic children, other disabilities and sensory challenges.
Anna Kennedy told us “it’s no joke when an autistic child or adult experiences a sensory overload, when they are hit with too much of whatever is causing this significant upset.”
She added “It’s at that moment the child or adult has just had too much. Anna knows only too well when her youngest son Angelo experiences sensory overload on a weekly basis and on a good day needs 5 to 10 minutes to take a step back, to compose and collect himself to help him get on with his day.”
Discussing her own circumstances she told us “However, due to the magnitude of his sensory challenges, Angelo and some autistic children and adults find it really difficult to take that step back. Everything just becomes too much for them, often it happens so quickly and the trigger is not known and it just gets too much for them and they cannot process things any more.
Some autistic children or adults either shut down or they fixate on something, it could be anything, in order to try to find some order in an overwhelming chaos.”
Anna adds “Football Matches are, historically overwhelming. I was pleased to see Arsenal have opened a viewing area with an adjoining sensory room for children with sensory issues and their families. It’s an undecorated space (by design, to reduce distraction), with a big window onto the pitch so the game can be seen, and sounds of the game and crowd are there but are muted.”
“There’s a separate entrance so the families don’t have to navigate lines and a turnstile with thousands of other people, it has tactile boards for children to experience different textures so they can stay engaged while they watch (often, if autistic children or adults have something in their hands eg a fidget toy it’s easier for them to focus on external things), and there are stools and football shaped soft beanbags for sitting, so the children can sit in a way that makes them the most comfortable.”
Next to the viewing room is the sensory room. This room has some sensory-assisting toys and games, various coloured soft lighting , including the most amazing feature – a fully interactive floor which children can play with that has different modes, like balloon popping or stepping on leaves or paddling on the Thames. Basically, the floor is a game area where children can play and do their own thing and take a break from the match if they want.
The best part of all of this facility It’s free !
To access this great facility just talk to the club and make arrangements, because Arsenal have recognised that there is no guarantee the child will enjoy the game and they don’t want to put parents in a position of having to part with £50 on their child hoping they will watch the game and enjoy the experience.
Anna Kennedy OBE was given a tour by Luke Howard an informed passionate and caring Emirates employee who was clearly proud of the work he was doing.
He had lots of ideas for future projects and is a credit to the Arsenal Community Dept.
Arsenal should be proud of the work they’ve done in creating this space for autistic children and their families, with sensory issues.
The Football Club have really demonstrated why they are part of the Premier League.