Friday 2 April is World Autism Awareness Day, when people and organisations across the globe come together to raise awareness about autism and the rights of autistic people. 

There are an estimated 7 million autistic people in Europe with charity Autism Europe brining together 98 organisations from 38 countries to continue to ensure the full realisation of autistic people, notably through the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant and recent studies have established that approximately 1 in 100 people are autistic. 

Despite underlying neurological commonalities, autistic individuals are vastly different from one another, as Dr Nick Walker explains in his blog piece "What is Autism?". This therefore includes autistic people who have significant intellectual disabilities and require a high level of support in their daily lives, as well as those who are of average to high intelligence and require a lower level of support.

Situations in which sensory overloads can more easily arise are contexts in which autistic individuals tend to be more consistently disabled. Live football matches can therefore present a number of barriers for autistic supporters, such as: 

  • Attitudinal barriers from other fans, particularly when using accessible services
  • A lack of advance information which can lead to heightened anxiety regarding matchday processes
  • Sensory overloads from busy concourses and noisy stands

As part of the CAFE #MyMatchday series, in 2019 we spoke to a young autistic fan from Russia, Fedya, who told us about his matchday experiences. This interview highlights the importance of acceptance and a fully inclusive, accessible and welcoming experience for all fans.

More recently, in December 2020, CAFE published its first Access and Inclusion for Non-visibly Disabled Spectators and Spectators with Long-term Health Conditions Report, which offers an insight into the experiences of fans previously overlooked in access considerations, including autistic fans. 

According to this report, two-thirds of the respondents indicated that they would use a designated security queue for disabled people and people with long-term health conditions. An autistic fan that took part in this survey even went as far as to say that going through security "is by far the worst part of attending games”.

The report also revealed that 40% of respondents would be interested in receiving a sensory pack at live games. These packs include items that can help spectators to stay relaxed and regulate their sensory responses, such as fidget spinners, colouring books, ear defenders, and stress balls. 

Sensory viewing rooms are another solution for spectators who need to watch a match in a managed sensory environment. They help reduce the likelihood of sensory overload in the stadium bowl and provide a sensory experience which can be adapted match-by-match to the people using the room.

See below the drawings of a young autistic Celtic fan who attended a game at Celtic Park and made use of the Sensory viewing room opened in 2019.

Drawings by a young autistic celtic fan after their visit to Celtic Park and the Club

In 2019, CAFE also published a guidance note on installing sensory viewing rooms at sports venues.

For further information on any of the resources mentioned including the Access and Inclusion for Non-Visibly Disabled Spectators and Spectators with Long-term Health Conditions report, or any of the accessible services mentioned, please feel free to contact CAFE at [email protected] or call +44 (0)208 065 5108.

Published 1/4/2021