Going to a loud and crowded event as a child with autism can be overwhelming, which is why some families choose to avoid sports arenas entirely. But some sports teams are working to make its events more inclusive, therefore giving all families the chance to have fun on game day. Just one example? Look no further than the Philadelphia Eagles' new sensory room for young fans with autism. The room aims to make kids feel comfortable in what can be a stressful environment.
The Philadelphia Eagles has a long history of autism advocacy, including its "Eagles Autism Challenge." The initiative "is dedicated to raising funds for innovative research and programs to help unlock the mystery of autism," the organization's website states. "By providing the necessary resources to doctors and scientists at leading institutions, we will be able to assist those currently affected by autism as well as future generations." And in 2019 alone, the challenge raised $3.51 for autism research.
In addition to research, the team is also dedicated to providing resources to children with autism and their families. One example is its new sensory room (opened Aug. 4) for fans with autism, which was constructed at Lincoln Financial Field during the NFL's off-season. The goal of the room is to give children with autism a "break" when the sights and sounds of the game become too overwhelming.
Ryan Hammond, executive director of the Eagles Autism Challenge, told CNN: "They can't see the field, but that's kind of on purpose, so they can take a break, center themselves and rejoin the experience."
The room, which was created with the help of nonprofit KultureCity, includes sensory bags filled with tools like noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads, according to Good Morning America.
Everything about the room is pretty incredible, but it's especially amazing because it helps families avoid the no-reentry policy at the stadium. Instead of leaving when things get overwhelming, children with autism and their families can find refuge in the sensory room.
Jeffrey Lurie, Chairman and CEO of the Philadelphia Eagles, spoke about the room's importance in a press release, stating:
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. 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.
As for the room's specifications, it's 500 feet and was certified as "sensory-inclusive" by KultureCity. The certification process also included training for Lincoln Financial Field staff and Eagles employees to help them “recognize guests with sensory needs and how to handle a sensory overload situation," according to People.
Although the room has only been open for a short time, parents are already raving about it. Victor Ykoruk, whose 10-year-old twins have autism, said the boys loved hanging out with the team's mascot.
"Instead of flailing away, he was quiet and subdued, and gave them hugs and shook their hands," Ykoruk told CNN. "He demonstrated exactly what the kids needed."
Hats off to the Philadelphia Eagles for creating an inclusive environment at Lincoln Financial Field with the new sensory room, and hopefully, other teams will follow suit because all families deserve to have fun.