A football session run by Albion in the Community for people with autism is having a real impact on the players who attend it – thanks in no small part to support from Brighton & Hove Albion.
AITC launched the session last year after the club offered its official charity use of the indoor pitch at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre in Lancing on alternate Sundays.
The session now provides a growing number of people with the chance to play the sport they love.
Zachary Nye (pictured in 2017) is now a regular but had never played football before joining in with AITC. The charity caught up with his mum, Sasha, to mark World Autism Awareness Day, which took place yesterday.
And she revealed the extremely positive impact the charity has had on her son.
She said, “When he went to the first session, he found joining in quite difficult so he would only do some one-to-one work. The coaches were very good at letting him work his way around.
“Now he plays with boys of his own age and has made lots of friends. He loves all the coaches and they know him by first name and nickname basis too; he feels really accepted, which is great.”
Players at the session are usually split into smaller groups, based on ability and age. There is also a free play zone and AITC makes sure its player-to-coach ratio is high. Typically there will be around five coaches at a session attended by 20 players.
Being able to use the dome at Albion’s training ground provides AITC with the perfect environment. There are minimal outside distractions, limited pitch markings compared to what would be found on a typical leisure centre sports court, a viewing area for parents, and coaches can control the temperature and lighting.
That location and the experience of AITC’s coaches means the players can concentrate on the most important part of the session – having fun and developing new skills.
It is certainly something Zachary relishes. “He loves the training sessions,” explained his mum. “Zachary finds social situations quite difficult and it can be hard for him to try new things. He can get quite anxious about new things and takes some time with them; language wise things have to be quite precise and he has to have a lot of planning and reassurance.
“He feels so safe, happy and secure at the AITC session that he doesn’t need support from us. If I was to introduce something else to him he might want me to stay – but at the football he can’t wait to get rid of me!”
And it has had another positive effect. Zachary hadn’t felt confident enough to visit the Amex to watch the Albion but since working with AITC he has been able to join his family in the stands cheering on the Seagulls.
Supporting AITC’s session is just one part of the club’s work in supporting people with autism. Earlier this season the Seagulls illustrated their commitment to making the American Express Community Stadium as accessible as possible to all supporters by launching a hidden disability scheme.
The scheme allows fans to easily identify themselves to club staff should they need any assistance, without having to give an explanation of the nature of their disability. Staff can then support that fan in the appropriate way.
The intention behind the club’s hidden disability scheme was to make it far easier for fans with conditions like autism to enjoy watching their heroes in action.
The club has also linked up with AITC to hold stadium familiarisation visits and sensory friendly events in the club shop, during which TV screens are turned off, the numbers of shoppers is restricted and the lighting is kept low.
To find out more about the hidden disability scheme, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or, for information on AITC’s session for people with autism, email: email@example.com.