Saint Joseph’s University is one of the first higher education institutions to offer an Autism Break Room in an NCAA Division I athletic arena, which will be unveiled on December 2 to support individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and help make every family’s game day experience positive and inclusive.
“A high-energy event, like the quintessential experience of a college basketball game, can pose challenges for people with autism. By providing a supportive break room, with trained staff and sensory-friendly items, we can ensure that all fans and families can get in on the fun,” said Joseph McCleery, Ph.D., executive director of academic programs at The Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. “Our preliminary research shows that exercise can be a powerful tool in autism treatment, so getting kids excited about sports is important.”
The break room is designed and staffed by experts at the University’s nationally recognized Kinney Center who also trained game-day leaders on how to best support families. Complete with sensory-friendly items such as stress balls, bean bag chairs, bounce boards, weighted blankets, noise-cancelling headphones and more, the break room will provide a quiet, safe space for families, children and adults with autism to enjoy a calm moment and take a break from the excitement of a Hawks game.
“Hagan Arena will now be an even more welcoming and inclusive environment for families and children with autism,” said Jill Bodensteiner, director of athletics at Saint Joseph’s University. “In light of the fact that Saint Joseph's is the home to the world class Kinney Center, we should be a leader in college athletics when it comes to integrating individuals with sensory differences into the athletics community.”
The Break Room will open to the public when the Saint Joseph’s women’s basketball team faces rival Villanova, in a Fan Fest and Autism Awareness Game, which will feature a half-time scrimmage by participants in the Kinney Center’s basketball program and family-friendly activities. More than 150 Kinney Center students and family members will attend.
The Autism Break Room will also be available at games on January 20, February 2 and March 2.