Autism and it's accompanying sensory issues and anxiety can make a trip to the grocery store challenging, so imagine how much tougher it would be for someone on the spectrum to attend a major sporting event like a football game. Noise, crowds, and unexpected sensory bombardment from every direction—oh my! I struggle to cope in such situations, and I can't imagine trying to take my son, a "‹non-speaking 7-year-old on the spectrum, to a local game, much less an NFL event. But perhaps in time that will change, thanks to the efforts of two amazing women who are trying to make NFL games more autism-friendly.
Michelle Wilkerson and Jennifer Sollars Miller, both moms to kids on the spectrum, recently started handing out free game-day kits for football fans with ASD.
Wilkerson and Miller are founders of "I'm A-Ok", a nonprofit dedicated to raising autism awareness. They've partnered with the Seattle Seahawks in order to give fans with ASD a better game-day experience. The "I'm A-Ok" game-day kits contain a sensory-friendly toy, a game-day schedule, noise cancelling headphones, stickers, an identifier badge, and other tools to help fans with autism and their families have a positive experience at games.
"[Kids with autism] have to learn the skills. They're not going to learn unless they're actually in the environment," Miller says. "And so all these skills that they've learned and acquired through schooling and therapy, we want them to be able to use those skills and be able to enjoy life."
So far, the fan response has been overwhelmingly positive, and Wilkerson and Miller hope to expand their reach to other teams beyond the Seahawks.
Jamie Pacton lives near Portland where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter.