Not only has the KS Foundation assisted people with autism enjoy football, but also helped the Newcastle Jets forward escape a “frustrating” start to the season.
Sheppard sustained a rare rupture in his foot during a pre-season friendly against Sydney FC – two weeks before the launch of the A-League season which saw the 26-year-old sidelined for four months.
The injury coincided with the launch of the KS Foundation – a charity set up by Sheppard which enables people with autism to experience football in safe environments – inspired by his brother Jake’s passion for the game.
In working towards building the foundation and alongside clubs around Australia to install sensory areas in stadiums for people with autism, Sheppard was able to cast his mind away from the discomfort of being sidelined with injury.
“It’s always frustrating you never want to get injured especially so close to the start of the season I came back to pre-season really strong and really fit and to get such a freak injury is never ideal. But the foundation was one of the things that kept me on track and kept my mind away from football when I wasn’t here,” he told FNR.
“As I started [the foundation] I had just got injured so I had a lot of time to work on it, but essentially it’s a safe and friendly environment in a box in a stadium where families and children with autism can come and enjoy and watch A-League games.
“My brother has autism; he used to come and watch me play every week and sometimes the lights and the noise can bring out some emotions that would set him off and sometimes he would get angry and things like that. He didn’t have a place where he could go and retreat and chill out for a bit and that’s what we’re trying to create with these sensory rooms.”
The sensory room was installed for Newcastle’s home match against Adelaide United in October 2019 and has been available for use at McDonald Jones Stadium for every Jets match.
The KS Foundation has also partnered with Melbourne City for its upcoming home match against Brisbane Roar, with club set to use one of the vacant AAMI Park boxes as a sensory room.
Now fully fit, Sheppard is hoping to break back into to the Jets starting line-up – with his six appearances this season all coming off the bench.
The Jets host a Melbourne Victory outfit returning from Korea, after its defeat midweek to FC Seoul in the Asian Champions League.
It was a four-nil win to the Victory at AAMI Park the last time the two sides met – in what was ultimately Ernie Merrick’s final game in charge – which new boss Carl Robinson will be determined to avoid in his second game in charge.
“I watched a little bit of their game and it would’ve been a tough game for them. We went to Japan last year as well so we know that it’s a long trip and they’ve got to come straight to Newcastle,” Sheppard said.
“We have to focus on what the new manager has been focusing on that in training and one of the biggest things has been defensive duties and everyone working hard and giving that extra two per cent.”
Donate to the KS Foundation here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ksfoundationau