NBA makes space for fans with autism spectrum disorder

Story highlights

  • The home of the Utah Jazz is opening its sensory-inclusive space on Friday
  • The Cavaliers, Kings, Thunder and Jazz provide the soothing spaces for fans

(CNN)When crowds of noisy fans pack sports and entertainment arenas, many people go expecting -- even hoping -- to experience some sort of sensory overload.

But for families with children on the autism spectrum, it's difficult to enter an often rowdy, overpowering environment without worrying about the kids. For some, it's virtually impossible.
It's a challenge that's now being addressed by the NBA.
    A "sensory room" designed for children with autism spectrum disorder and other intellectual and developmental disabilities will open at Salt Lake City's Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz, on Friday. The event will be a feature of Autism Awareness Night at the venue.
    The creation of the space makes the Jazz the fourth pro basketball team with a sensory room; the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Sacramento Kings and the Oklahoma City Thunder also have these rooms. The new space is part of a partnership between Vivint Gives Back and the Jazz.
    The NBA is partnering with nonprofit KultureCity to make 19 arenas "sensory-inclusive" by the start of the 2018-19 season this fall. The arenas include the homes of the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, according to the league.
    "For children that have autism or sensory processing disorders, going to a venue is pretty overwhelming for their senses," said Holly Mero-Bench, director of the Vivint Gives Back program.
    "Imagine if your life was like being on the front row of a rock concert. It would be pretty challenging going about your day-to-day life -- let alone to a basketball game where things are loud and chaotic."
    Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, said it's quite common for individuals with autism to be overwhelmed by sensory input such as bright lights, loud sounds, big crowds -- or a lot of people talking or shouting at once. They need a space to get away from all the input, some quiet time to regulate themselves.

    'No autism awareness at an autism event'

    The sensory room initiative was born out of a frightening and frustrating night for one family with a child who has autism.