As students at St. Cloud State University, Nic and Paige Dowd developed a passion to give back to the special needs community.
Paige studied speech language pathology at St. Cloud, where she served as the president of the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association.
Upon graduating and moving to California, Paige worked as an autism therapist as Nic pursued a career in hockey.
"The kids I worked with stole my heart immediately," said Paige. "It was a rewarding job being able to watch them grow and use the tools I was teaching them."
The experience encouraged the Dowds to continue to find ways to engage with the autism community and provide access to unique experiences, including this season in Washington with the creation of Dowd's Crowd.
"I saw how the day-to-day life of the parents can be challenging, and going to events that would be easy for some parents are more difficult for others," said Paige. "Hockey games are loud and can have a lot of sensory triggers for children, so Nic and I wanted to make it a safe environment for kids to be able to enjoy a hockey game."
Through Dowd's Crowd, the Dowds partnered with Autism Speaks to identify families to invite to select games. As part of the experience, Dowd's Crowd participants were presented with sensory kits.
The sensory kits included noise cancelling headphones, sunglasses, a foam puck and a conversation card to help the child be able to fully enjoy the game without any triggers.
"Paige and I believe that kids with autism should be able to experience an NHL game live and in person, despite the noise, lights and sounds of a packed arena," said Nic. "We also feel it's important for the rest of the family to enjoy the game, knowing that their kids are in a safe environment catering to any and all of their needs."
Postgame, the Dowds met with the families to talk about their experience, sign autographs, and take photos.
The Dowds' goal in creating a player program focused on autism was to show that there are resources available to allow people with autism to enjoy a hockey game in person.
"The families get to attend the game and find something they all enjoy doing together they might not have tried before," said Nic. "It would be a shame for such a useful tool to go unknown, and having the items in the kit available make the triggers of a loud sporting event seem less stressful."
For fans who plan to attend a future Capitals game that have a child who is autistic, please reach out to the Capitals community relations department at CapsCare@WashCaps.com for more information on sensory kits.