The latest trend in the NFL? Sensory rooms in stadiums for fans on the autistic spectrum or with other sensory issues.
In the 2019 season the Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars have all unveiled rooms designed for people who require a calm, quiet place away from the roar of the game. The rooms are usually sound-proofed and have toys and other resources to relieve stress.
“When we think about families with children with autism coming to a game, there’s barriers to re-entry, there’s sensory overload when we score a touchdown and there’s pyrotechnics,” Ryan Hammond, executive director of the Eagles Autism Challenge, told the AP. “We felt the sensory room was what we needed to be fully accessible . The idea behind it was not to change the experience but deliver a solution if they needed to take a break.”
As the years progressed, more sensory features were added to additional football stadiums across the nation.
Philadelphia Eagles / Lincoln Financial Field
The Philadelphia Eagles, in partnership with KultureCity, have announced the official certification of Lincoln Financial Field as a sensory-inclusive stadium. This new initiative will promote an accommodating and positive experience for all guests and fans with sensory challenges visiting Lincoln Financial Field. As part of that, the Eagles have become one of the first sports franchises to build a state-of-the-art sensory room in its home venue.
Presented by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), a founding beneficiary partner of the Eagles Autism Challenge and one of the nation’s top-ranked hospitals for children, the Lincoln Financial Field sensory room is one piece of a broader collaboration between the Eagles and CHOP to benefit families throughout the region. For the past decade, the Eagles and CHOP have collaborated on the team’s annual Huddle Up event, a carnival-style gathering geared specifically for families impacted by autism. Since August 2016, the Eagles have donated nearly $2 million to benefit autism programs at CHOP and the Center for Autism Research.
The sensory inclusive certification process entailed training for Eagles employees and Lincoln Financial Field staff by leading medical professionals. It included how to recognize guests with sensory needs and how to handle a sensory overload situation. Sensory bags equipped with noise-cancelling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads are made available to all guests as part of their experience. The 500-square-foot, state-of-the-art sensory room has been carefully designed by top medical professionals to ensure a quieter and more secure environment.
Lincoln Financial Field’s sensory room opened its doors to the public on Sunday, August 4, at the team’s Training Camp practice. With proceeds from Sunday’s practice going to the Eagles Autism Challenge, Inc. the team’s philanthropic priority in support of autism research and care, more than half a million dollars ($506k+) was raised for the cause.
“With the opening of Lincoln Financial Field in 2003, we made it an organizational priority to create a one-of-a-kind experience for guests in a safe, friendly and inclusive environment,” said Jeffrey Lurie, Chairman and CEO of the Philadelphia Eagles. “It is truly heartwarming to know that this state-of-the-art sensory room will now provide a sense of ease and comfort for families and loved ones who may be experiencing sensory challenges at Lincoln Financial Field. In this moment, we are creating a major shift from autism awareness to action, and it is all thanks to our compassionate and caring fans, Eagles Autism Challenge supporters, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the autism community around the world.”
Seattle Seahawks / Century Link Field
Beginning this year, CenturyLink Field will offer a safe and calming environment for those who need to escape the noise and excitement that comes with the Seahawks gameday experience.
Spearheaded by Traci Schneider, the wife of Seahawks general manager John Schneider, CenturyLink Field now has the A-OK Sensory Room for fans with autism, sensory challenges or PTSD who may be feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated. The sensory room, which is located at GuestLink on the Southwest Field PLaza, will be open for all full stadium events. Children using the room must be accompanied by an adult.
The addition of the A-OK Sensory Room is just the latest contribution to the autism community made by the Schneiders, whose son Ben was diagnosed with Autism almost 15 years ago. Since 2012, their annual Prime Time celebrity waiter event has raised more than $4.25 million for Ben’s Fund, the Schneiders’ non-profit that gives grants to families affected by autism. In 2015, the Seahawks Women’s Association partnered with A-OK Autism to provide toolkits for fans on the autism spectrum that include noise cancelling headphones, ear plugs, sensory toys and an “I’m A-OK” identifier badge.
“John and I are immersed in the autism world, and this has been on our radar ever since our son was diagnosed almost 15 years ago,” Traci Schneider said. “… We did feel like this is the next step in the process, because we want to be inclusive. We want to be a stadium where our fans felt welcome, and give them a space and an opportunity, if they are getting overwhelmed—we all know that CenturyLink is very loud and very high sensory—so just give them a space to have that moment and to come back down so they can rejoin our gameday and be part of it.”
The Seahawks were the first team to offer the sensory kits, but several other NFL teams have recently added sensory rooms, something Traci Schneider sees as an encouraging trend.
“I love where we’re all going and what we’re all doing and how we’re all trying to be a little bit more inclusive and supportive to all of our fans,” she said.
Minnesota Vikings / US Bank Stadium
A Fan Sensory Kit was designed to help fans with special sensory needs feel comfortable and remain engaged during games. Items were chosen to mitigate environmental factors and provide engaging sensory input on multiple level to meet the unique needs of users. Available at Guest Services located on the Main Concourse near the Purple and Gold lobbies or Section 307 on the Upper Concourse. Click here view the Autism Social Narrative. Special thanks to the Autism Society of Minnesota for their assistance with this program.
Jacksonville Jaguars / TIAA Bank Field
“One out of six Americans actually have a sensory issue,” Mathis said. “It’s not just for individuals with autism. It’s also individuals that have or suffer from PTSD, from anxiety and several other things. So we want to make sure they come to the game and have fun and feel included and are able to enjoy themselves.”
The Jags partnered with Kulture City to improve the ability to accommodate guests with sensory needs.
“In the sensory bags, it has items such as noise-canceling headphones, a feelings thermometer, a few fidget things and then we also have weighted lap pads that guests can use,” Mathis said.
The bags, which are free to use, can be checked out at guest services before the game and must be returned after the game.
During the regular season, a sensory room will be available for those with sensory needs who want or need to take a break or timeout during the game.
MetLife Stadium (NY Jets and NY Giants)
MetLife Stadium has partnered with Kulture City in an effort to provide a more inclusive and comfortable experience for our guests with sensory processing needs. Our team members are trained and certified to recognize opportunities to assist these guests in their enjoyment of our events. We also offer sensory bags containing noise-cancelling headphones, fidget toys and weighted lap pads among other resources for checkout at any Guest Service Booth or Concierge Desk located through the Stadium.
For further information or assistance, please contact our Guest Services Department at (201) 559-1515.
Buffalo Bills Stadium (Buffalo Bills)
Bills fans with sensory processing disorders, like autism and post-traumatic stress disorder, will be able to enjoy Bills games even more, as Bills Stadium is a certified Sensory Inclusive space. The sensory inclusion bags, which provide help if someone were to have a sensory episode, contain a variety of items such as visual cue cards, a lanyard and fidget toys including a stress ball, a mesh tube with a marble in it and a tangle toy. They can be found at each Guest Service booth at Bills Stadium and can be rented by guests during a game free of charge by presenting their license. Additionally, there will be five weighted pads, located throughout Bills Stadium, available with the sensory inclusion bags upon request. Bills Stadium will also have signage located near each Guest Service booth, as well as stickers on the ticket windows, so fans can easily identify the stations as Sensory Inclusive.
Miami Dolphins / Hard Rock Stadium
The Sensory Room, made by possible by The Dan Marino Foundation & Bose Corporation, is located at Section 153 and is a private air-conditioned room for guests with special needs (children or adults) to use as a quiet space. The space has a padded floor, padded wall-mounted equipment and other sensory supplies donated by The Dan Marino Foundation to help ensure a comfortable experience. The room contains a tablet donated by Microsoft to play music, along with several noise cancelling headsets donated by Bose. Additional noise cancelling headsets donated by Bose are available at any of the Guest Experience Headquarters for use during major Hard Rock Stadium events at Sections 115, 143, 215, 243, 315 and 343. A Guest Experience team member may be staffed at the Sensory Room to ensure a comfortable and private experience. Access to the Sensory Room may be limited given the circumstances (e.g., guests with extraordinary needs, demand, etc.) and will be managed by the Guest Experience team member assigned to the Sensory Room. Any children/wards using the Sensory Room MUST be accompanied by a parent/guardian at all times.
Pittsburgh Steelers / Heinz Field
Kulture City Sensory Packs helps fans with special sensory needs feel comfortable and remain engaged during gams and events. Packs provide engaging sensory input on multiple levels to meet the unique needs of users. Packs may be checked out of any Guest Service Room and must be returned at the end of each event.