AFC officially recognised as Scotland’s first autism friendly football club
The National Autistic Society (NAS) Scotland recognition follows a recent visit by a group of autistic volunteers, who were invited to Pittodrie by the Club and its AFC Community Trust (AFCCT) to discuss how the Club could become more autism friendly.
The news has been welcomed by prominent local MSP Mark McDonald, who is an avid Dons fan and who has a young son on the autistic spectrum.
Mr McDonald said: “Sport has a unique power to bring people together and make us all feel like we are part of the team. It is highly commendable that Aberdeen Football Club recognise the importance of helping people with autism feel welcome at games, and I congratulate them on their terrific efforts within the community to do this.”
Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. Around 700,000 people in the UK are on the autistic spectrum. Together with their families, this means autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people.
The Club – which already offers an autism friendly hospitality box in the main stand at Pittodrie – will now take steps to make an outing to Pittodrie easier for those with the condition and their families, including providing specific training to employees to ensure staff can advise fans with autism on the best places to sit on a match day.
There will also be designated quiet spaces throughout the stadium for those who may want to escape any noise during the game, and ear defenders will be available from the Club shop.
Staff will also operate a ‘speedy turnstile’ system, so that autistic fans can access the grounds easily to avoid crowds. There will also be a section on the AFC website dedicated to providing information about the match-day experience to make planning a trip to Pittodrie as stress-free as possible.
Steven Sweeney, AFCCT Community Operations Manager, said: “Aberdeen Football Club and its partner charity Aberdeen FC Community Trust are inclusive organisations; if there is a barrier to why people can't attend a match at Pittodrie, then we do all we can to overcome it.
“We would like to thank NAS Scotland and its Ellon Branch for all the guidance and support received to date. It has been great to involve autistic supporters in the process, and we look forward to championing a better public understanding of autism in the future.”
Aberdeen Football Club’s accreditation is part of a wider initiative by The Autism Friendly Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire projects, which are being delivered in partnership between The National Autistic Society Scotland, and Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnerships.
The projects aim to increase awareness of autism among those living in the North-east, support autistic residents to develop social and independent travel skills, and leave a legacy of autism-friendly groups and activities.
Jenny Paterson, director of NAS Scotland, said: “We know that two thirds of autistic people in Scotland feel socially isolated – but we also know that very small adjustments can often make a big difference, meaning they can access and enjoy the places that many of us take for granted. The Autism Friendly Award encourages organisations to learn about autism and make these adjustments.
“I'm so pleased that Aberdeen Football Club has kicked things off in the North-east, and we are really looking forward to working with them, Peterhead Football Club, Sport Aberdeen and Ice Links Arena, Inverurie Rail Station, Union Square and other organisations to make Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire autism friendly.”
Aberdeen Integration Joint Board chair, Jonathan Passmore, said: “The Dons are well known as a club which is at the heart of the local community, with an impressive track record of inclusivity and equality. This achievement of becoming Scotland's first football club to achieve autism-friendly status, is typical of its high ambitions very much in the spirit of its long-standing commitment to make a positive impact on communities and individuals to enhance their life choices.”
NAS Scotland is keen to support more organisations across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to become autism friendly. To find out more about the award, please email Campaign.Scotland@nas.org.uk