Sports events and stadiums can be overwhelming for many people on the autistic spectrum, who often experience extreme sensitivity to noise, touch, and other physical sensations.
Appreciating this challenge, Minnesota Wild, a professional ice hockey team from Saint Paul, has partnered with the Autism Society of Minnesota to provide free sensory kits for fans with autism and other sensory-related special needs.
“This set of tools is meant to allow people to choose what items they need in order to be enjoying the game from their seat," Ellie Wilson, the Autism Society of Minnesota’s Executive Director, said, according to a report this month by Kare11.com.
The kits offer a variety of items, including stress balls, sunglasses for those sensitive to flashing lights, and headphones for those with sensitive hearing. The kits also contain a “social narrative booklet” to help visitors with autism successfully navigate the event.
“You would think that, at a noisy hockey game, you wouldn't need any more stimulation, but the truth is, sometimes these needs are specific," Wilson said. "I might need to be touching something in order to successfully pay attention. Tools that involve my hands are different than tools that involve my eyes or my ears."
In addition to the sensory kits, the Autism Society of Minnesota offers staff training so that employees are equipped to recognize and support fans with autism and sensory needs.
Other sports teams, such as the Minnesota Vikings, have followed the Minnesota Wild’s example by creating a special sensory room this season. This summer, the Philadelphia Eagles opened a sensory room in their Lincoln Financial Field stadium for visitors with autism, particularly children. The Minnesota Timberwolves, the state’s national basketball team, have also indicated they plan to offer special accommodations for fans with autism, and plan to announce more in the coming days.