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Travel Tips and Sensory Friendly Activities in Pittsburgh

In a recent blog post, we shared travel resources from the Abram’s Nation community for families seeking accessible and inclusive resources and activities. From my family’s experience living in Pittsburgh and raising Abram here, I’d like to share a few tips and welcome families with all needs to visit and explore the city we call home. Here are some of our favorite sensory friendly activities in Pittsburgh and additional travel resources.

Sensory Room at Pittsburgh International Airport

Pittsburgh sets the tone for accessibility and inclusiveness from the moment visitors arrive. Pittsburgh International Airport recently opened a world-class sensory room to assist travelers with private soundproof rooms, various calming activities, a sensory friendly restroom with adult changing table, and more.

Sensory Friendly Activities

There are many sensory friendly activities in Pittsburgh to suit all needs and interests.

  • The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust offers sensory friendly performances several times per year. During these performances, theater lights remain on low, sounds are reduced, and guests are welcome to get up and move around during the performance.
  • The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium have launched a sensory inclusion initiative to assist guests with sensory needs. Resources include sensory bags, weighted lap pads and a social story available through the KultureCity app.
  • AMC Theatres has partnered with the Autism Society to offer sensory friendly movie showings at theatres across the country. During these showings, the lights are turned up and the sound is turned down. In the Pittsburgh area, these sensory friendly movie showings are offered at AMC Waterfront. Here’s a mom tip for this one: when Abram was younger, his therapist and I would take him to a sensory friendly movie and use it as both a fun and educational experience. By taking Abram’s own booster seat with us to strap him in, we could practice sitting still and other behavior and reward exercises in a new environment.
Outdoor Activities

Pittsburgh offers many parks and trails that invite you to spend time exploring the outdoors.

  • The 24-mile Three Rivers Heritage Trail offers scenic views all along the three rivers. My family loves the Eliza Furnace section of the trail, which is also known as “The Jail Trail.” It’s easy to access by parking near the Allegheny County Jail, and there’s a bike rental company nearby. We head away from downtown to enjoy a route that’s mostly flat and paved and offers some great scenery.
  • We also enjoy the North Shore Riverfront Park, spanning from PNC Park to the Carnegie Science Center. It offers a Riverwalk, Great Lawn for picnics and space to run, and the Water Steps that encourage kids of all ages to dip their feet and play in the water.
  • Depending on your unique needs, as well as the time of year of your visit, another option is to rent kayaks and get out on the water. Local nonprofit organization Venture Outdoors operates Kayak Pittsburgh rentals along the three rivers in downtown Pittsburgh or just north at North Park Lake.
Tips for All Travelers

Whenever we travel, there are a few things I try to remember:

  • Call ahead for airline travel to note the diagnosis in your file. You can also request early seating for a little more time and a little less chaos in the boarding process.
  • Never leave home without noise-canceling headphones, a positive reinforcement reward like stickers or your child’s favorite treat, and baby wipes. You just never know when you’ll need them!
  • Find a restaurant that allows kids to be kids and can be accommodating to sensory needs. We are fans of Bravo because the atmosphere generally has the perfect amount of noise so that no one is distracted by my kids but it’s not so loud that it’s overwhelming to the senses. There are also built-in sensory activities of playing with pizza dough or coloring on the tablecloth while the kids wait for their meals.
  • Check with our case manager for discounts available through our medical ACCESS card. Many local attractions will welcome you at minimal cost with an ACCESS card.
  • Research Certified Autism Centers for attractions that have completed certification by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) for having highly trained staff and being fully equipped to serve individuals with autism.
  • Abram’s Nation products are perfect for traveling around Pittsburgh or anywhere in the world. The Safety Sleeper comes with its own suitcase that we can fit in the car or check on an airline. Weight Mate is made with industrial glass beads that won’t crush or lose their shape, and by avoiding liquid or gel beads we made Weight Mate completely TSA friendly!

With so much to offer, we invite families with all needs to visit Pittsburgh, the city the Morris family and Abram’s Nation call home. To our fellow Pittsburghers, what would you add to this list of sensory friendly activities in Pittsburgh? Have you found any hidden gems?

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