World Autism Awareness day: Blog post from the Shippey Campaign

Nathan Shippey

As parents of three children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we knew life would throw more than a couple of challenges our way!

 

Our three boys are a delight and bring a joy to us every single day, but we can’t begin to explain how life’s simplest tasks, trips and visits can prove to have a devastating effect, not only on our boys, but on our family if the environment isn’t right.

 

Children with Autism can have the same hobbies as neurotypical children. They can enjoy movies, every type of sport, music…the list is endless. The trouble is, their enjoyment is restricted in many environments, which is not for those without sensory difficulties.

 

This firstly became apparent for us when we took our children to a restaurant. Our eldest didn’t like the ‘feel’ of the place, our second born couldn’t deal with the amalgamated smells and our youngest threw his plate across the room because he couldn’t deal with the texture of the food.

 

Yes, we knew we would have challenges.

 

Our eldest child developed a love of football, which, again, was expected, as both of us parents enjoy the sport and it’s frequently (always!) on TV at home.

 

The question came while he was watching our local team, Sunderland AFC, play on TV.

 

“Dad, can I go to the stadium?”

 

We began to explain the journey and the experience of watching a live match at a stadium. He understood that he may become a little anxious, but we were all willing to try it for him.

 

So, armed with headphones with his favourite music, ear defenders, ear plugs and a snug fitting hat, he and his dad set off.

 

It was shortly after kick off when the call came. He was too distressed and simply couldn’t last another minute. I had to go and collect him.

 

I chauffeured a very scared, sobbing little boy home. He stood in front of the TV and watched a different team play.

 

A few days later, the statement came.

 

“I want to go to the stadium again Dad” Peter and I looked at each other again. OK, let’s try somewhere different in the stadium this time!

And so ahead went the preparation, and off went the little boys, beaming a smile, and carrying his loaded haversack.

 

Again, the call came.

 

The desperation in his face said it all. He really wanted to be there, but his condition would simply not allow him to cope with the environment.

 

The close season followed and the discussions started with him.

 

We decided to buy season tickets in The Black Cats Bar. This was a big step, as it’s hospitality based. With seats in the main bowl of the stadium, but a lounge area to come into at any time, which showed the live match on screens.

 

So, match day number one, we were off. There was no mistaking Nathans excitement! He couldn’t get there quick enough!

 

He felt comfortable in the lounge area, but when the time came to sit outside, the same thing happened. He tentatively walked out to his seat, gripping our hands with extreme force. He huddled into dad. Once the music began and the teams began to emerge from the tunnel (a part he loved to watch on TV) but he couldn’t cope any longer. Inside we went. We watched the rest of the match inside The Black Cats lounge area.

 

This happened for the next couple of matches. He watched them in the lounge…on the TV. It was no good. We had to do something. We had paid to watch the match live, but effectively, we were sitting inside, watching it on TV, just like we would at home.

 

So, in September 2014 we contacted the DLO at SAFC and put forward an idea we had. We knew what was needed and we knew that the club didn’t already provide the facilities.

 

Our concept was for a sensory viewing room. There were specifics that we listed that would make this room safe and comfortable for those with sensory difficulties.

 

The response was promising. The SLO, Chris Waters informed us that they would put it to management to be considered for the following season.

 

This is when the work began. 11 months of meetings, emails, research, gathering a petition, and a whole lot of gentle persuasion resulted in The Nathan Shippey Sensory Room opening its doors to the public on 15th August 2015.

 

The room has had a tremendous response!

 

Not only has it been full for every match, but there is a waiting list too! The responses from parents have ranged from overwhelmed to excited to emotional.

 

It’s so hard to explain how amazing it is to be able to take a child, who has sensory difficulties, to a football match. When it’s something that they long for. When it’s a dream that seems unreachable. The upset that you can’t ‘just take them’ and cheer your team on, like your mates with their kids.

 

We saw the requirements. We knew what had to be done. We did it.

 

The door is opened at Sunderland AFC and we now want to open that door in every stadium, nationwide.

 

These families affected by autism deserve the ability to go to a match and experience it stress free. There shouldn’t be any unnecessary restrictions to their lives. Its hard enough to tackle life on a daily basis and to suffer even more by not providing an environment where they can see their favourite sport live.

 

We have met many club representatives now, some have visited the Stadium of Light to see the room first hand, and we have been invited to visit some clubs to give guidance and further information, these include Manchester United!

 

Very recently, we have met with a representative from the Premier League, along with two large companies in the hope to push this out quickly and efficiently nationwide.

 

So, that’s The Shippey Campaign in a (large) nutshell. We won’t stop until we have succeeded in making sport - all sport - accessible to all, breaking down barriers that sensory disorders put up.

 

Please do support The Shippey Campaign! We have a website: www.theshippeycampaign.com

 

We’re on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010186787291 and https://www.facebook.com/theshippeycampaign/

 

We’re on Twitter @shippeycampaign

 

And you can find us on instagram and LinkedIn

 

Your support is invaluable to us, and if you want us to approach a club for you, don’t hesitate to email us at theshippeycamapaign@gmail.com