Opinion

Does your church need a sensory room?

Be inspired by what St Kilda is doing for fans with special needs

The AFL is considering the roll out of “calming” spaces for people with special needs at every club’s homeground, following the positive reaction to St Kilda Football Club’s “sensory room”.

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As reported by ABC, the sensory room has been recently trialled at Melbourne’s Dockland Stadium. The room is dimly lit, sound-proofed and stocked with bean bags and toys to cater for fans with special needs such as autism. Noise-cancelling headphones are provided and for St Kilda supporters like Karen and her granddaughter Kailea, the space has allowed her family to have “a normal day out” at the footy.

“This room has allowed us, as a family, to come here and not have Kailea have a tantrum or a meltdown once the noise starts to get too much,” Karen told ABC.

Catering to the different requirements of fans in this way was sparked by St Kilda consulting with “specialist groups and the AFL.”

Such recognition by an AFL club of the experience of, and care for, people with special needs encourages reflection beyond sporting codes. Particularly as St Kilda moved beyond the mere consideration of diversity, to implementing changes in a practical way.

On other fields but similar to St Kilda’s sensory room, Coles has brought in “Quiet Hour” shopping across Australia where, every Tuesday morning, some supermarkets reduce lighting, noise and “distractions”. Event Cinemas offer monthly “Sensory Movie Day” screenings with subdued lighting and sound – and greater tolerance for noise being made during a movie.

Like sporting venues, supermarkets and cinemas, churches are parts of society’s fabric which are visited by a wide range of people.

Most Christian churches offer music, visual stimulus and the communication of vital information. How those things are received depends upon the individual and their reaction to the content – as well as its presentation.

Does your church need a sensory room? Or could the St Kilda sensory room inspire your Christian gathering to better respond to special needs of those within your community?

Eternity has been told about various churches – and individuals – across Australia who have responded similarly to St Kilda, to the special needs of people.

Hillsong created Treasure Chest as a dedicated programme at Sunday services for “children, teenagers and young adults with diagnosed disabilities or special learning needs and their families.”

Spreading across Australia but started 11 years ago in Sydney, Jesus Clubs create a church environment for people living with intellectual disabilities, and their families.

“Treat people the same – find a way to accept them and make them feel part of the group, like everybody else.” – Marni Walkerden

Marni Walkerden is a woman from the NSW central coast who sparked a global revolution by suggesting the definition of “disabilities” be expanded, in relation to access to amenities and programmes.

Walkerden offered a few practical ways for churches to better include people with special needs, such as helping to transport those with mobility restrictions to appointments; being mindful that language communicates a focus on the person, not their disability; and including people into a church’s regular programmes: “Treat people the same – find a way to accept them and make them feel part of the group, like everybody else.”

Such examples demonstrate that various approaches can be taken, in relation to your church’s size, skills and the requirements of members or visitors.

They also reveal that different needs have been recognised by some churches – and action has been taken.

And one more thing to note: these examples are not the end of the story of what churches are doing across Australia to respond to needs in their community.

Eternity would love to hear how your church is embracing and catering to people with special needs in your community – let us know!

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