The latest trend in the NFL? Sensory rooms in stadiums for fans on the autistic spectrum or with other sensory issues.
This 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.”
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
EAGAN, Minn. – In partnership with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), KultureCity and 3M, the Minnesota Vikings will unveil a sensory inclusive space at U.S. Bank Stadium in time for the 2019 season.
Designed by KultureCity, a non-profit based in Birmingham, Alabama, the sensory room caters to fans with autism, down syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia and other conditions requiring a safe and soothing atmosphere. The space will allow individuals, regardless of their ability, to enjoy amenities at U.S. Bank Stadium confidently, knowing they have a quiet space to retreat to for a break, as needed. Partnering with Fraser Pediatric Therapy, the room will be staffed with two licensed behavioral specialists for every Vikings home game.
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.