Man and boy in an Arsenal football shop, purple quote

Every October, thousands of businesses take their first autism-friendly steps by taking part in our Autism Hour campaign. We spoke to Luke, Disability Officer at Arsenal Football Club, as he tells us what they do to support autistic people during matches at the Emirates Stadium and in their shop by running Autism Hours.

Why is Arsenal taking part in Autism Hour?

Arsenal are incredibly proud of their commitment to the Arsenal For Everyone campaign and ensuring that all those who want to be involved in their club are able to support their team. We see this as going far beyond just the football-watching fans.

What changes does Arsenal make to hold an Autism Hour?

We have some incredible local advocates: from parents, to young people and to adults who have helped us create a targeted and fit for purpose autism hour. We have looked at all aspects: from the way we approach families and individuals, through to their experience during the shop and with staff and then finally to how we can support them on any journey forward they wish to have with the club. This has included creating social stories, amending the lighting, the training offered to all staff and the layout of items to be tried on, amongst others.

What did you do to prepare for your shop's Autism Hour?

We created a consultant group with families who visited the shop with staff, put forward difficulties they perceived and also anecdotes of previous shopping experiences. We then created our action plan which was pitched to our retail team and fully agreed too.

Is there anything else that Arsenal does to support autistic fans?

We have a sensory room and sensory sensitive viewing room that we have in operation every single match day for autistic people and their families to attend matches. We have also just created of a bespoke module on autism awareness in football stadium environments, which we are delivering to all public facing members of match day staff. As well as this, we have a broad range of community sport interventions that are autism-friendly.

Finally, the club have been very proactive when it has been highlighted that a fan is autistic or has any form of sensory needs. We show this through our work with families to make reasonable adjustments - in the cases of a young person who was a player escort for a fixture and another who was involved in our Junior Gunner Takeover day.

What impact has that had on your autistic fans?

We are in an incredibly fortunate position of having some families who help advise us on the decisions we make and I feel Carly, whose son is autistic, phrases it better than we ever could in her blog:

This space is a safe haven for fans with heightened sensory needs as a whole, and highlights my core belief: everybody, regardless of gender, age, social background, or how they perceive the world around them, has the right to access and enjoy football.

We’re incredibly please that Arsenal are supporting Autism Hour and taking autism-friendly steps. As Luke mentioned, Arsenal acted on the experiences of autistic supporters, which shows that if businesses and football clubs understand what they need to do to support autistic people, they are more likely to take action.

To do this, download our Autism Hour card to help you give feedback to shops taking part next week.

Download now