Drew MacIsaac may be the Antigonish Farmers’ Mutual Junior Bulldogs’ biggest fan.
Nevertheless, his first home game cheering on the ‘black and gold’ did not go as well as his mother, Angelina MacLean, would have hoped.
“We couldn’t stay long. He loved being with the boys, but the noise – the music, lights and such – were too much for him.”
Drew – now four-and-a-half – has sensory processing disorder (SPD), a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information delivered through the senses.
Many people with sensory processing issues are oversensitive to sights, sounds, textures, flavors, smells and other sensory input, which makes it important to change aspects of an environment to create a more inclusive community.
SPD affects many with autism and attention deficit disorder, but it can also be a part of life for people with no other conditions.
The atmosphere at the Antigonish Arena, including the crowd noise and loud music, was too much for Drew.
“They became his games,” MacLean said of his visits to Tuesday night practices to watch his heroes in action without the noise and distractions.
From Drew’s experience – and those of others – teacher Suzi Synishin and her Health and Human Services 12 class at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School came up with an idea.
In recent years, teams across North America, including in the professional ranks, have staged successful ‘quiet’ games.
Last November, the Bulldogs – with help from the high school class – did the same, when the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League team hosted the Sackville Blazers.
“I was unsure how people would feel, but they embraced it,” MacLean said.
For the ‘quiet’ game, there were few announcements, while music and buzzers were a no-no.
Rather than making noise to cheer on their team, fans were asked to encourage them with signs. Because bright colours can also be a SPD stimulus, they were fashioned with white writing on black paper.
There were also ‘quiet’ rooms provided, in case the atmosphere became too much for someone.
“He wanted to stay until the Zamboni cleaned the ice after the game,” MacLean said, with a smile and laugh, recalling Drew’s much different experience during the ‘quiet’ game.
With the success of last year’s ‘quiet’ game, for Drew and so many others, organizers decided, once again, to do it.
When the Bulldogs hosted the Strait Pirates, Jan. 13, pucks hitting the boards and skates gliding over the ice were amongst the few noises heard as the perennial rivals clashed.
“It is about little things that we can do as a community,” Mariah MacKenzie, of the Health and Human Services 12 class, said, after she and other students made some of those aforementioned black-and-white signs before the game.
Class members have been learning about SPD, including the challenges people face and how they “experience things in different ways.”
“You really get an appreciation for what they have to deal with,” Mariah added.
Students have also made presentations to classes at Saint Andrew Junior School (SAJS), including slide shows, which outline SPD and what people can do to create a more inclusive community.
“It is life-changing for people,” Mariah said of the measures – like having a ‘quiet’ game – can have on people.
She added “we can do it as a community.”
MacLean thanks the Bulldogs, along with Synishin and her students, for their roles in launching the initiative.
“It is great for everyone,” she said.