A WINNING scheme to make football more accessible to supporters with autism kicks-off in the Capital at the weekend.
The A-team project has been devised by Scottish Professional Football League bosses to enable many families to attend matches for the first time.
A new SPFL Trust mobile sensory unit makes its debut on Saturday as Hearts entertain Motherwell at Tynecastle.
“We are happy to be able to launch A-Team as we strive to make SPFL football more accessible,” said SPFL Trust chief executive Nicky Reid.
“There are supporters who would like to be able to take their someone with autism to a match, and there are many clubs who would be delighted to welcome them.
“It’s been about finding an effective way to deliver this across the SPFL.
“We’ve seen one or two clubs develop really fantastic autism-friendly spaces in their stadia, but the reality is that it is a really expensive process.
Therefore, this is a really innovative way to address the need in an effective way.”
The mobile sensory unit means any club which has a private indoor space with a view of the pitch can welcome supporters with sensory difficulties in a safe way.
Autism affects over 700,000 people in the UK and is a much-misunderstood condition which manifests itself in many different ways including sensory difficulties.
Sometimes referred to as ‘sensory overload’, such difficulties can make certain situations incredibly stressful for both the person with autism and their family or friends.
Such issues are magnified in the noisy, intense and colourful surroundings of a football match.
Once set up, the room will have interactive bubble columns, multi-coloured fibre optic cables, solar projector, sound and light panel, fibre optic carpet, glitter ball, and an aroma unit.
The A-Team kit will be set up several days before a match - with families invited to see the set up for themselves, meet staff and plan a comfortable match-day experience.
Clubs will be able to loan the kit after relevant staff have completed Autism Awareness Training - delivered by the National Autistic Society.
The project has been co-funded by Variety Scotland, the children’s charity, with support from the SPFL and Corra Foundation.
Nick Ward, Director of National Autistic Society Scotland said: “We are delighted to have worked with the SPFL Trust on their A-Team project to help make Scottish football more autism-friendly.
“We know that 44% of autistic people and families in Scotland sometimes don’t go out because they’re worried about how people will react to their autism. We also know that small changes such as autism awareness training for staff, can make a big difference.
“The SPFL Trust’s new mobile sensory unit makes Scottish football more accessible to autistic supporters and their families, and allows them to enjoy a thrilling match-day experience that many of us take for granted.”