Matildas connect with sensory room

  • Sensory room in operation for Australia’s Olympic Games qualifier

  • Room offers suitable space for children with sensory and cognitive disabilities

  • Nephew of Matildas’ star Kyah Simon enjoyed sensory room experience

Australia moved closer to qualification for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020 on Friday with an overwhelming 5-0 first-leg victory over Vietnam.

With the nation’s men’s team securing their ticket to Tokyo in January, success for the Matildas in the return encounter in Vietnam on Wednesday will mark the first time Australia has seen both sides qualify for the Olympic Games since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.

High up in the stands in Newcastle on Friday, history of a different sort was being made. A sensory room allowed a large group of supporters with cognitive difficulties to experience the match in a safe and happy environment.

While such rooms have opened up in the past few years around the world, including at 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ venue Khalifa International Stadium, such an environment is a potential milestone for women’s international football.

A sensory room is typically a quiet and relaxed area filled with toys, equipment and soft furnishings. Such features are designed to manage anxiety and allow children suffering from autism, as well as their families and friends, to watch matches in a welcoming and calming environment.

The sensory room, which has been in operation for Newcastle Jets’ home matches this season, was warmly welcomed by Matildas’ star and scorer at two FIFA Women’s World Cups™, Kyah Simon. The Australian forward’s nephew Trey has autism, but was in attendance for the Olympic Games’ play-off.

Eight-year-old Trey attends every game possible to see his famous aunty play, but invariably has to leave early due to being overwhelmed by the colour and noise inside the stadium.

“Obviously my family are my biggest supporters, and my sister Sarah and Trey try to come to every match they can,” said Simon.

“I know what a difference it will make having a sensory room where he feels settled and can stay for the full 90 mins as the atmosphere isn’t too overwhelming.

"It is a special thing for me to know that when Trey does come to my games that he is in a safe environment and that he is not getting overwhelmed.”

The innovation for the match was inspired by the local work done by Newcastle Jets forward Kaine Sheppard, whose older brother Jake is autistic. The KS Foundation managed to fill the allocated space with children with cognitive difficulties within a matter of hours.

“Having someone like Kyah help us (KS Foundation) and her show of support is massive, and being something close to her heart is awesome,” Sheppard said. “She’s a great player and has a big reach, so together hopefully we can make more people aware of autism.”