Sensory room gives Simon’s ‘number one fan’ chance to watch her shine for Westfield Matildas

Kyah Simon will go into the Westfield Matildas' game against Vietnam this Friday night safe in knowledge her number one fan will be there supporting her to the end.

As the Green and Gold embark on their final steps towards securing a berth at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Simon's eight-year-old nephew Trey, who is on the autism spectrum, will be one of the children who will enjoy a very special initiative at the Westfield Matildas's game against Vietnam at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday, 6 March (6:30pm AEDT).

It has not always been easy for Trey and Simon’s sister Sarah, Trey’s mum, to enjoy the lights, sounds and action of Westfield Matildas games in the past, but that’s about to change thanks to a concept from the Kaine Sheppard (KS) Foundation which is taking Australian football by storm.

Inspired by his brother Jake – who is also on the autism spectrum – Newcastle Jets striker Sheppard established the Foundation in October 2019 intent on providing a safe space for children on the  autism spectrum to come and enjoy the best of live football, without the overload of sensory information which can be overwhelming.

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The KS Foundation have been providing sensory rooms in stadiums at both Westfield W-League and Hyundai A-League games throughout the last five months.

After the overwhelming success and popularity of the program the KS Foundation has combined with the FFA to provide the first-ever sensory room at a Westfield Matildas game when they host Vietnam on Friday.

Simon says the ‘amazing’ initiative will be of tremendous benefit to both her and her family, as young Trey will get the chance to watch her Westfield Matildas hero and aunty in action in a safe and comfortable space he is bound to enjoy.

“My nephew Trey has Autism so I’m familiar with sensory toys, sensory rooms,” Simon said.

“When I saw [the KS Foundation's sensory rooms] I thought ‘this is amazing’.

Kyah Simon and Kaine Sheppard
Simon and Sheppard in the sensory room at McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle

 Simon continued: “I’m really pleased that Trey and Sarah can experience the game this Friday, along with some other kids that may be on the spectrum, and enjoy the game like every other person in the stadium can.

“Trey being one of my number one fans, if not my number one fan – having a safe space for him to be able to come to and also let my sister relax and be able to enjoy the game without having to worry about Trey maybe getting overwhelmed by the occasion or the crowd around him out in the stadium – it’s immensely important for me.

“There’s been a lot of games where Trey and Sarah have come and at the end of the game when I’ve gone up to the fence and said hello to my family Sarah and Trey are no longer there because the have had to leave the game early.

“For them to be able to stay for the whole 90 minutes, for my sister to not have to miss out on any part of the game and Trey to be in a comfortable place for him, not to be overwhelmed by the noise, to play with they toys he usually would at home, for me to know that he’s relaxed and he’s not going to be overwhelmed, that’s something really comforting for me going into a game knowing that him and a lot of other kids are going to be looked after.

“They’ll be able to enjoy the experience as much as anyone else, especially for my sister who usually has to miss out on a lot, she’ll also be able to just relax knowing that Trey is safe.”

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Simon and her Westfield Matildas teammates are currently preparing to face Vietnam in the first leg of a playoff to decide which nation books their spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

With the first leg taking place on home soil at McDonald Jones Stadium a positive start is crucial as the Westfield Matildas look to keep their Olympic dreams alive, and Simon can attack the game with the reassurance that Trey, her sister Sarah and the rest of her family are in a safe and happy space cheering her on to the end. 

But it's not just Simon's family who will be benefiting from the KS Foundation's sensory room. The Westfield Matildas star says the initiative is making enormous steps towards creating a more inclusive game for all to enjoy. 

“I think inclusiveness in our sport is so important,” Simon said.

“To have that [inclusiveness] for kids with disabilities, and something so close to my heart for kids on the spectrum with autism is so incredibly important, I wanted nothing more than to support the KS Foundation and Kaine for all the hard work he’s done to put this foundation in place.

“I’m really excited to see where it will head in the future as well.”

Westfield Matildas star Kyah Simon with her nephew Trey
Westfield Matildas star Simon with her nephew Trey

Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Play-Off Round

Australia v Vietnam (Home Leg)
Date: Friday, 6 March 2020
Kick-off: 6.30pm AEDT
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Broadcast: Live on FOX SPORTS, Kayo Sports, ABC iview (delayed on ABC TV) and the My Football Live App 
The match will also be streamed LIVE on YouTube for viewers outside of Australia and Vietnam

ON SALE: Tickets for final Tokyo 2020 play-off – Westfield Matildas v Vietnam
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Vietnam v Australia (Away Leg)
Date: Wednesday, 11 March 2020
Kick-off: 6.00pm local; 10pm AEDT
Venue: Cẩm Phả Stadium, Cẩm Phả, Quảng Ninh Province, Vietnam