On January 12, Spero Academy students enjoyed a special hockey experience hosted by the Minnesota Wild in partnership with Associated Bank and Autism Society of Minnesota. The event welcomed students, teachers, and caregivers from Spero Academy and Lionsgate Academy (another charter school with programs designed for students on the autism spectrum located in Minnetonka) “Into the Wild” with a hockey experience catered to the unique needs of those with autism.
Autism and Sporting Events
Children and others with autism often find it challenging to attend events like sports games under normal circumstances. The deafening roars of excited fans, bright lights, sound effects, and large (and often rowdy) crowds can be a lot for anyone to handle—but is especially overwhelming for individuals with autism, whose senses are more easily overloaded.
A Unique Behind-the-Scenes Hockey Experience
Into the Wild is a special event that lets young people with autism celebrate the State of Hockey and experience what it’s like to attend a MN Wild game in an environment more conducive to autism.
“A really big part of being a Minnesotan is being a Wild fan,” said Ellie Wilson, executive director of the Autism Society of Minnesota. “The chance to come and experience this at their own pace, with all the support that they need to try this new experience, is exactly what we’re all about today.”
"Part of it is thinking about what it's like to be on the spectrum, knowing that when you come to a new place even if you're really excited and really want to participate it can still be an overwhelming experience.”
Spero Academy Meets MN Wild
Spero and Lionsgate students got the full Xcel Energy Center experience—claiming tickets at will call, going through security, and finding their seats in the arena. They also got to do things most Wild fans will never experience: they watched the Wild practice, had a chance to shoot a puck, and enjoyed the view from the Al Shaver press box on the suite level. Some lucky Speros even met Wild coach Bruce Boudreau and were interviewed by WCCO-TV, KSTP-TV, and FOX 9 News!
Being able to explore Xcel Energy Center and witness the Wild in action in a quieter and more controlled environment allowed the students to get more out of the experience than they could on a regular game day.
"The biggest need that we saw when we first sat down as a group was that these students wouldn't normally be able to spend time at Xcel Energy Center or a Wild game because there's just so much going on," said Wild senior activation coordinator Tim Groth. "Hockey is for everyone, and it's been a lot of fun."
Just the Beginning
The hope is that exposing children with autism to the sights and sound of the Xcel Center may also help reduce any anxiety of going into the arena if they decide to attend regular season Wild game in the future, along with helping to ease fears of large venues and crowds in general.
Into the Wild was just the first step in a closer relationship forming between the Autism Society of Minnesota, MN Wild, and Associated Bank. At the March 19 game against the Los Angeles Kings, the Wild and Associated Bank sponsored a Stock the Box event to raise funds for the Autism Society of Minnesota.
"This was a big part of introducing these communities to each other so we can start to understand each other," Wilson said. "I want these kids to know that because of who they are, we're really excited to meet them and that we celebrate them as Minnesota community members and as Wild fans."
On behalf of all our Speros, we’d like to give a big thank you to MN Wild and Associated Bank for this incredible experience!