AN AUTISM campaigner and football fanatic has launched a drive to raise awareness of complex and little-understood conditions.
Alex Manners, aged 21, is a recent Solihull College and University Centre Media Production graduate and he has Asperger’s syndrome – a form of autism.
He has previously spoken to the Observer about how he feels he was let down during his education by people who did not understand his ‘invisible’ condition or give him sufficient support.
Although Alex says he views his Asperger’s as a positive characteristic, he faced many ‘challenges’ when he was at school.
Alex has written about Asperger’s for different publications and has also been active in raising awareness through the media.
Alex says he feels ‘lucky’ to have Asperger’s as it makes him the person he is today.
He said: “I feel back to front. Things other people find easy I find difficult and vice versa.
“After I had been diagnosed my dad told me that a lot of our family had Asperger’s traits and that it gave us special powers.
“I believed him and since then I have viewed it as something positive and something I feel lucky to have.”
Alex manages to divide his attention to accommodate his love of football.
He films Solihull Moors FC matches for BT Sport and has set himself the target of watching a match at all 92 English Football League grounds.
A sports stadium can be an anxious environment for someone with a complex condition like autism, he says.
His recent Autism and Football campaign aims to combat difficulties faced by those with autism in football stadiums, like sensory overloads.
Taking into consideration personal space between seats and turnstiles, Alex is now drafting practical solutions for clubs to make grounds more autism friendly.
He said: “I love football, but there are areas that are difficult for me when attending a game.
“Ideally I’d like all clubs to comply with providing a certain number of spaces for autistic fans.
“The closeness of seats and lack of personal space is often one of the most difficult aspects for Autistic fans.”
He was recently invited to visit Arsenal Football Club and their sensory room for Autistic fans.
Arsenal are one of the clubs considering increased provision and special accommodation for those with autism and special needs.
Alex said: “I was overwhelmed by how much the club understood autism, how sensory equipment was used and how the children could use them easily.
“The sensory room is credit to the Shippey Campaign.”
The Shippey campaign was pioneered by two parents who wanted to introduce sensory viewing rooms at sports grounds.
Luke Howard, Arsenal’s community disability officer said: “We put a lot of thought in to how we can adapt the match day experience to ensure that we offer a variety of environments to suit the needs and preferences of our fans.
“This has included the development of our sensory room facilities – allowing us to offer the opportunity to engage as a fan to those with autism and who are more sensitive to sensory hyper sensitivity.
“Alex is an inspirational young man who has the charisma and ambition to help highlight diversity to the mainstream audience”.
He was recently invited to watch Arsenal’s game against Burnley last Sunday in the club’s new sensory room.
Next on the agenda for Alex is speaking at the National Autism Show in London in June.
For more information visit www.thealexmanners.com or to find out more about media courses at Solihull College & University Centre, visit www.solihull.ac.uk.