The founder of the Autism In Racing initiative has been astounded by the “100 per cent positive” reaction to its launch.
Bobby Beevers, a broadcaster for SIS and raceday presenter, came up with the idea after being diagnosed himself recently.
Beevers was prompted to undertake a series of questionnaires about autism when, while his daughter Sophia was being tested for the condition, his mother and his wife Rachelle began to piece together similarities between the two.
“Because Rachelle had worked in nurseries and worked with kids with autism she knew what to look out for, things like flapping hands and running around,” he said.
“She spoke to my mum, who told her these were things I used to do as a kid.
“One thing I do is talk passionately about racing, because I’m interested in it. If the person I’m talking to shows a subtle expression that they are not really interested in what I’m saying, I don’t pick up on it and just keep talking. I’ll also talk to anybody as if they are my best friend – as many in the press room will know!
“When Sophia was diagnosed in the first lockdown I wanted to find out for myself if I was too, and spoke to my GP. The first assessment was over Teams – but I had another face to face, and after filling in a few more forms they came to the conclusion that I was also autistic.”
It is still quite a big leap from being diagnosed with a condition to then doing something which will help others in a similar situation, but that is what Sheffield-based Beevers – a Rotherham United fan – set out to achieve.
“It was when Sophia was in the process of being diagnosed Rachelle said she’d love to make everything a lot more accessible for people with autism,” he added.
“When she said that, it was when I started thinking racing could step up to the mark.
“Crowds and noise are two major factors, but autism is such a broad spectrum – it affects people in different ways. I’m fine with crowds – but for Sophia, while I haven’t taken her to a football match yet, I would imagine we might take ear defenders out of caution.
“She’s fearless, though. We can take her to a theme park, and she’ll go on the rides no problem.”
Beevers wasted no time and went right to the top by speaking to British Horseracing Authority chair Annamarie Phelps, who was immediately on board with his vision.
“I went to Annamarie, and she was the first person in racing that I told that I was on the waiting list for an autism assessment. Actually admitting that to someone made me think it was a good thing,” he said.
“She told us she was 100 per cent behind the idea. I put together a team, and we were having meetings over Zoom – building up relationships including with Arsenal.
“The reaction has just been 100 per cent positive. Twitter can be toxic at times – but the support behind this, everyone has just been brilliant.
“The amount of followers in the first week, the response from people in and outside racing has been brilliant. People have been sending me messages about their situation and told us they were wishing us all the best. We’ve got off to a great start and we have so much planned going forward. It’s important we get this year, a trial year, right.”
One of the initial stages is to trial autism-friendly sensory spaces at Doncaster, Haydock and Musselburgh later this year.
“It could be that people have shied away from taking their family racing for fear of what might happen when they get there,” said Beevers.
“But by putting these mobile sensory rooms in, a safe a supportive place on the course, they might think again now.
“We need to plan where these rooms go. They need to be in the right place – you can’t just plonk them anywhere.
“But if you want to spend all day in them you can, or come and go after visiting the paddock. It’s all fine.
“The hope is in maybe 10 years’ time there might be one on every course, but at the minute it is a mobile room. We’re hoping to go down the same route as football, who converted hospitality boxes into sensory rooms. That would be fantastic if we could do that, but it might be a case of building one from scratch.”
Those who know Beevers will agree he is full of energy, and in this instance his enthusiasm has clearly worn off on others.
“Racing has got behind this unbelievably, and from the start I said I just wanted to give autism a voice,” he added.
we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet and want to make a change.
“Hopefully anyone who wanted a career in racing – be that a stable lad, jockey or whatever – but might have been put off by their autism, this initiative will hopefully show them they don’t have to be, because the support is there for them.
“We’ve got provisional dates from the racecourses when the first days will be, but they’ll be announced when everything is finalised. Hopefully it will be something special.
“The team I work with have all been very supportive, and we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet and want to make a change.”
To keep in touch with developments within the initiative follow @autisminracing on Twitter.