Geelong Cats’ Sensory Room

In an Australian first, Geelong Cats match days and major events produced by Kardinia Park Stadium Trust are accredited as sensory inclusive at GMHBA Stadium. This is the first permanent sensory zone in the country at a major stadium. PLEASE SHARE!

Sarah Albon tells us more, “It started with a letter from a Dad who had dreamed of taking his son to the footy, ever since he first held his baby boy in his arms. But as the boy grew, it became evident that the noise, crowds and excitement of a match would be too much for him. This letter led us to forming a steering committee, looking for best practise; which we found in the US, at Kulture City visionaries, lots of generous in-kind support from builders and groups fitting out our Sensory Room and training for over 500 people.

Cats Sensory room 1

“At one match, an 18 year old customer service representative recognised that a child in the crowd needed support and let the family know about the Sensory Room. Families can visit the room on the Thursday school from 4.00pm – 5.00pm in the lead up to a match, so the children can familiarise themselves with the space and all it has to offer. Online at you can download the ‘visiting GMHBA stadium social story’ and there is also a virtual tour of the room. The Cats ambassadors for the program are Gary Rohan and Cassie Blakeway.

“There are backpacks available from three different points around the ground complete with earmuffs and fidget toys. In the room there are quiet spaces where the children can relax, the room is sound proof, there are spaces where kids can use up a bit of excess energy, access weighted or fidget toys, movement and lights. And for the parents and carers, the game is televised on mute.

“We’ve had families from all over the state coming to the footy for the first time because of this initiative.”

Dr Bernie Jenner adds, “Imagine a lifetime of struggle and fear on a daily basis. Extreme aloneness from the beginnings of life. Living in a world where you are a stranger. Being threatened by sound, touch and light. Being stuck in a world of repetition, rituals and sameness, often unaware that signals pass between people. Being constantly unsure what is about to happen. As a result, being locked inside yourself and not wanting to come out.

“I see the benefits over three tiers; on an individual level, among community support partners and with the power of the iconic Australian sports culture and specifically the AFL to help create change and understanding Australia over.

“I would love to see such modelling as this, spread to every corner of every day community living. I congratulate and thank all those involved on behalf of those sufferers, as it will and has already, given them and their families greater confidence to come out of their hibernation and experience more of what the world has to offer. The ripple effect for them and across the whole community is infinite and life changing.

“One family never in their wildest dreams had ever imagined bringing their 7yo daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome and 5yo son with Hyperactive Intellectually Disabled to a football match. They dearly wanted to come together as a family, rather than having one parent usually at home as a carer. The children were prepared days beforehand about the Stadium and Sensory Room which they visited first, to play and familiarise on their way to their seats in the stand. They gathered the backpacks, sat enthusiastically in their stadium seats, and ruffled through their backpack ‘showbag’, headphones on, grabbed favourite fiddle toys and waited.

“Both the parents & children knew the Zone was a safe quiet private place to go anytime during the match and there were understanding people there. The 7yo became stressed on a number of occasions and pulled out the soft ball regularly but stayed in her seat, the ADHD 5yo went to the room at half time to walk, lie down, play with soft toys, then went back to the stadium seat for the rest of the game.

“‘The best day ever’, they said, and they cannot wait to come back. One story – life changing.”

Sensory Zone steering committee

The Sensory Room is located in the Deakin Cats Community Centre in the Players Stand near the Doug Wade Gate (south west side of stadium).

Story: Jacqui Bennett Photo: Phil Hines, shows Sarah and Bernie in the Sensory room. Photo: Of the steering committee supplied L-R Carolyn McDiarmid, Deb Maddocks, Sarah Albon, Dr Tara Roberts, Kirsten Blake, Dr Bernie Jenner, Kim Rowe, Maxine Ford, Kelly Wainewright.