Does your child have sensory difficulties at sporting events? Here are some things to consider before you bring your child with autism to a sporting event.
Recently, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend a Carolina Hurricanes game. We love hockey, always have, but going with our daughter many years ago presented many challenges. Over the past dozen years or so, the sensory experience at most sporting events has exploded (in some cases, literally, when you consider the regular occurrence of pyrotechnics or fireworks), making these events incredibly difficult for kids who are sensory sensitive. Even if your child is ok with the “Sensory Soup,” there are rules and customs to teach. (And don’t forget going through security, which varies in intensity from place to place.) Today, I want to spend just a few moments going over some things to consider if you are deciding whether or not to bring your child with autism to a sporting event.
SENSORY DIFFICULTIES AT SPORTING EVENTS
Pointing out the obvious – “Sensory Soup”
It’s no secret that things have changed over the past dozen or so years when it comes to sporting events. Instead of a simple scoreboard, some music, overpriced goodies and players on the ice (the field, etc.), modern sporting events are now a full-on sensory experience. Lighting has changed tremendously, with various colors blinking and scrolling virtually non-stop. The volume of the music has gone up considerably, and there is no auditory “down time.” These two factors are incredibly important to consider if your child has any difficulty with noise or lighting.
Tip: Good quality earplugs or special headphones can help tremendously with sound. A book the child can use to divert his eyes may help, as well as sunglasses (if allowed.) But to be honest, for some children, it really is just “too much,” and your child may be better off skipping the event.
Some aspects of attending games haven’t changed too much, but still need to be considered. Food is readily available, which means all sorts of smells. If your child is sensitive to smells, prepare him that someone sitting by them may have this type of food and that it is not ok to ask her to get rid of it. Likewise, due to ticketing, changing seats usually isn’t an option, either.)
On the flip side, cheering loudly for your team can be a good outlet.
Rules and Etiquette
Rules and common courtesies vary from sport to sport. Some things remain the same, such as standing (quietly) during the National Anthem, and not kicking the seat in front of you. For some sports, standing during play is acceptable, while for others, it is not.
In both hockey and tennis, you will not be allowed to go to your seats during play. This may need to be explained to your child ahead of time. In fact, for the tennis matches we have attended, you must also remain in your seats during play. In other words, if something is bothering your child, you will both need to hang in there until a break in play. Again, this should be communicated ahead of time so your child understands that “an emergency bathroom trip” (oy, who hasn’t been there…) is not an option.
For a more flexible sporting experience, we highly recommend baseball. The pace is slower, and the rules as far as getting up and down are usually a bit more flexible. There are often grassy spots you can go to where you can both watch the game and your child can move about comfortably. It also tends to be quieter. Still, basic rules of etiquette apply.
When my husband and I started attending sporting events together, there wasn’t a lot going on between periods, innings, etc. Most of the contests were at the minor league level. In fact, we figured the lower the level of play, the greater the amounts of gimmicks to keep you interested and stuck in your seats. This, however, has changed. In fact, we used to look at the period breaks as a sort of “down time,” with time to visit with our neighbors or merely take a breath. Now, that time is filled with music, contests, announcements, and anything but a quiet moment. To be true, I really feel for autism and sensory families and it seems many are now shut out of these events due to sensory overload. (Who hasn’t had a local “Autism Night” that ends with…fireworks? Really? Really.)
Attending sporting events can be fun for the entire family, especially if it’s a “sensory match.” For kids who love anything that lights up the senses, there are tons of options out there to delight. And, yes, it is worth it to try to stretch your child. In fact, our daughter, who once could not attend most of these events comfortably, now attends concerts (earplugs in tow).
I’d love to hear about your experiences! Also, if you have any questions, contact me, Daniele or Denine.
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