In an AFL first, kids with autism can now attend football matches at Marvel Stadium, thanks to a new initiative from St Kilda Football Club and Amaze, an autism awareness and education organisation.
The quite room is designed to reduce the sensory overload that people with autism experience, like screaming fans, crowd noise, sirens and loud music.
Fiona Sharkie, CEO Amaze, says the normal behaviour of fans enjoying the football at stadiums can be too much for kids with autism.
“Food odours can be overbearing – a hot pie, someone spilling their beer or fans doing a lot of repetitive arm-waving can also be hard,” she said.
“Now, with the quiet room, they can come to games, deregulate in the quiet room, then return to the stadium or stay and watch the game in the room.”
The room has bean bags and pillows, big screen TV, dim lights and no external light, plus St Kilda are providing headphones and football-shaped stress balls that children can decorate and use.
AFL Inclusion Team is hoping all clubs will be providing calming rooms by 2022.
“Autism-friendly environments are the ‘ramps and rails’ for autistic people and others with a non-physical disability, Sharkie said.