Republic of Ireland winger James McClean has announced publicly that he is autistic, becoming one of the highest-profile footballers to ever do so.

McClean, who has won 98 caps for the Republic of Ireland, currently plays his club football in England and is in his second spell with Wigan Athletic after previously playing for Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City.

The timing of McClean's announcement comes during World Autism Acceptance Week, when society is encouraged to celebrate and understand more about the approximately 75 million people globally who are autistic.

In a statement made on Instagram, McClean explained how he went public with his diagnosis to support his daughter Willow-Ivy, who is also autistic.

McClean said, "The last four years have been life changing in the most amazing way but also very difficult at times as her daddy, watching her overcome so many obstacles in her life and learning how to manage the challenges she faces on a daily basis. The more Erin [McClean's wife] and I learned about autism the more we began to recognise I was very similar to Willow in more ways than we thought".

"I see so many small traits in her that I see in myself. So I decided to go and get an ASD assessment. I have debated for a while going public in sharing this as I've done this for Willow-Ivy, to let her know that I understand and that being autistic won't and should never hold her back from reaching her goals and dreams", added McClean.

CAFE Research Officer Isobel Robins, who leads on our work around the barriers faced by neurodivergent people, said, "We applaud James McClean for sharing that he is autistic. We hope that this representation will encourage many autistic football fans that football is welcoming for all, and that a high-profile player's openness about autism will lead to much greater inclusion for all autistic fans and players".

To find out more about World Autism Acceptance Week, visit the Autism Europe website.

Published 29/3/2023