Sensory issues are no longer a barrier, says
Republic of Ireland footballer James McClean’s youngest daughter doesn’t like crowds or busy noisy places.
“My two eldest kids love coming to see me play, but for Willow it’s a different experience. Football games, which are such a huge part of our lives, are quite overwhelming for her,” says the Derry player.
But watching her dad play is now set to be a much more comfortable experience for Willow because of the installation by Aviva Insurance Ireland of a sensory hub at the Aviva Stadium. The hub includes a Cubbie Booth and delivers a total sensory management system, reducing sensory overload and disruption. The state-of-the-art sensory booth is free for any fan to use during their visit to Aviva stadium.
In Ireland, one in 20 people has sensory issues such as ADHD, dyspraxia, or SPD, and one in 50 has been diagnosed with autism. The spectrum disorder, which includes Asperger’s, affects everyone differently, but is usually characterised by difficulty with social interaction and communication.
AsIAm founder and CEO Adam Harris says the sensory hub will have a phenomenal impact for children and adults on the spectrum and will open up a new visitor base for the stadium. One in 65 people in Ireland have autism and, with immediate family members impacted too, this means autism affects a quarter of a million people.
“People with autism do a huge amount to negotiate spaces every day,” says Harris.
“If they aren’t met halfway, it can make the difference between taking part and being left out. Sometimes when we think about autism and disability, we only think about schools and hospitals, forgetting people with autism want to go on a day out, want to go to a match and cheer on their national team.”
Users can create a profile on the Cubbie during their first visit, which will then be available each time they use the hub. Harris says this recognises that one size doesn’t fit all; that people with sensory needs have different profiles and experiences.
“Some like lots of noise, light, and stimulation — others prefer reduced noise and things very calm,” he says. He sees Aviva setting the bar high and challenging other venues to follow suit.
“Some say ‘we couldn’t do it here because of the crowds, it’s so busy’. Well, it doesn’t get much more hectic than an international soccer match,” he says, adding AsIAm is on hand to advise.