The sensory 'area' at Mansfield isn't the same as a sensory 'room'. Sensory rooms are an enclosed, secure, soundproofed space overlooking the pitch that allow a person(s) with autism to watch a live football match. They also will only be for the autistic person(s) and their parents / carers or equivalent. The sensory rooms aren't a free for all which basically what the sensory areas can be like and this puts a lot of autistic youngsters off using them. Because they feel uncomfortable with strangers effectively 'intruding' into their space.
I'd like to hear feedback from anyone with autistic kids who has used the sensory area at Field Mill. IMO in general if a kid with autism has specifically sought out the sensory area for respite and refuge then sharing that space with other kids not known to them is likely to render the sensory room purposeless and they are likely to not want to use the sensory area. Therefore i believe that sensory ROOMS work due to their privacy but i'm not so sure yet about sensory AREAS due to them being general public access and not exclusively used for the autistic individual and the people they feel comfortable with.
Mansfield have a sensory room as do Doncaster Rovers and a few other clubs although i'm unsure how utilized these are and also i am unsure about whether people are finding them of great benefit. That said, the very fact that some clubs are starting to open up these spaces shows that they are at least thinking about improving the matchday experience for autistic people and at the same time raising awareness of autism but as i said in my earlier post, clubs need to do a lot more and a lot more for older fans with autism and not just kids.
Simple accommodations are often all that is needed and not thousands of pounds spent on sensory rooms. Myself for example i always require an end seat inside a ground. In addition i also look for the seat next to me to be unoccupied as i get claustrophobic and just feel weird being sat so close to somebody i don't know. Not only that but because i don't know them i cannot predict their behaviour which adds more stress.
Will they start chatting to me when all i want is to be left in peace to absorb the game? Forcing me to interact and challenge my brain to communicate when all i want to do is switch off for 90 minutes. Will they be someone who shouts random stuff, constantly startling me or will they be someone up and down like a jack in the box pointing, swearing and gesticulating? I've no problem with anybody doing all this but just not around me. I'm at the footy to try and relax and enjoy it and i can't do that when i'm constantly feeling hemmed in and anxious about what anybody next to me will do.
Therefore i need an end seat and it needs to be in a quiet area of the stand. I also generally require the seat to be on the back row. I dislike people behind me. I cannot see them and it makes me edgy.
I also need my tickets to be booked well in advance so i know where i will be sat and i can minimize potential stressors.
Unfortunately MTFC aren't good at facilitating my attendance as they don't allow certain blocks of the IG to be pre booked and therefore with only one other stand available, the chances of getting an end seat at the back are next to none.
Maybe using a section of seats in the IG as a 'quiet area' where anyone who sits in there will be comfortable in the knowledge that those sat around them also want calm and aren't likely to be flipping and jeffing every 2 minutes or acting erratically and unpredictably.
It needn't cost anything and would create a safe space for kids and adults on the spectrum who don't necessarily require a sensory room and who could happily sit in the stands but who still find attending games difficult. Difficult partly because of their challenges but also MADE difficult by the club's ludicrous and restrictive online ticketing system / policy.
Also disabled tickets should be accessible online. Having to ring up the club every time to buy tickets or pop down is madness. It's easier for non disabled fans to purchase than disabled fans. Whilst autism in itself is not necessarily a disability for many, the prospect of unnecessary phone calls etc is more stress and hassle and just puts people off.
So there you have it. All football clubs IMO should provide a small area of seating in a stand as 'quiet zones' and these can be for fans on the spectrum as well as fans who are able to observe the rules and regs of the zone and just want to sit in a calm area surrounded by calmer fans. This allows kids and adults on the spectrum who struggle with matchday to both manage their anxiety / sensory issues whilst at the same time making them part of the crowd and thus feeling part of the crowd and not some isolated figure stuck up in a sensory room.
Sensory rooms are invaluable for fans with more profound difficulties with their autism and are needed yes but for a lot of fans with 'milder' autism, just a bit of consideration, leeway and common sense would help us no end. It needn't cost anything either. Just better planning and organization.
Sunderland have one of the best sensory rooms opened in conjunction with The Shippey Campaign.
Ian, i got diagnosed as i was always struggling with one thing or another but if you have autism there will always have been something deep down niggling you that you ARE different from others in a lot of areas but over time you get adept at hiding that from others to fit in. You can never hide it from yourself though.
I was assessed by Derby NHS over a 3 day period and after a 3 year wait to see a specialist which is a disgrace in itself. Then you get told there is no support because even though you are an adult with autism and although the last 30 odd years of dealing with it and not knowing have all but left you decimated physically and mentally, they see that you have coped and are not deemed needy of support.
Help is available out there if you are a child with autism or if you are at the other end of the spectrum and have more severe difficulties which is fair enough. There is no help for people like me and i will have to crack on with it as best i can as i have done for the most part of life. It gets harder as i age though, as does going to the footy.
Anyway, novel over and i'll keep an eye out! Best wishes!