This is a rare simulpost on both Walking Talking and Easter Road West to mark World Autism Awareness Day, which is today, still. Being autistic can be both a blessing and a curse. It is a difference that benefits my life and hinders it to varying degrees. I am very lucky to have a fairly independent life, to be able to work and go out in the world. Not as many of my fellow neurodiverse folk have that option.
Recently I wrote a piece for Nutmeg Magazine about what it’s like to be an autistic football fan. It was great to see my words in print and particularly in a publication I actually read. There’s a line in it that I like ‘for me, football is like therapy’. It truly, truly is. The experience can be hard. Very often it is noisy with lots of sensory overload. But my love of Hibs trumps almost all else, including the downsides of both being autistci and supporting the Cabbage. The release of frustrations and feelings is endlessly valuable as is the feeling of being in the right place, a safe place I’ve known for a long time. Gratifyingly, I got a nice comment on Twitter today praising the article and saying that the reader had read it four times, which is more than I have, if I’m brutally honest.
Scottish Autism have today released a video from the perspective of a wee boy who has autism. He’s shown going to the football for the first time with all the trials and travails that brings. I think that’s absolutely great, even if the wee laddie supports The Rangers. I’m not known for praising the mob from Govan but their provision for autistic fans and disabled fans more generally is superb. This includes Broxi’s Den, a sensory room in the Broomloan Road Stand at Ibrox, which is a brilliant move replicating a few others down south. I hope Hibs can do something similar in due course, either inside the stadium or in a nearby building like Norton Park.
My main concern is to live a good life. Some of the best times I’ve ever had were when I was watching Hibs, not least the 2016 Scottish Cup Final which ranks very highly in the best days of my life. My autism impacts on my football experience in lots of ways, not just the sensory. I remember being at Alloa a few seasons ago and getting discombobulated trying to figure out where the food queue was. Some kindhearted soul noticed and told me to go on and order. Plus of course the clumsinesss, cowping hot Vimto over myself at Killie and tipping over after a goal was scored at Ross County. I was reminded recently, though, that this is genetic and not entirely autistic. What I am trying to say is that I wish things were a little easier at times. Thankfully with each passing year things get better, for me and for other autistic people. Moves like Broxi’s Den at Ibrox, the sensory aids at Pittodrie and Dundee United’s brand new clickable, walkable online map of Tannadice are all excellent and my one hope this World Autism Awareness Day is that other clubs and wider society learn from these good things and better them. We’ll see.