Don’t miss these 8 sensory-friendly programs for kids in Pittsburgh
Photo courtesy of Heinz History Center.
Happy, chattering crowds, flashing lights and lively music will usually build excitement – except for families of a child with autism or sensory sensitivities. For those kids, noisy venues with lots of people can trigger an adverse response.
A growing number of Pittsburgh organizations and institutions have responded to the need for sensory-friendly programs and provisions. With April designated as National Autism Awareness Month, we thought the timing was perfect to applaud these groups for their pioneering efforts and share details on their programming with local families.
1. Senator John Heinz History Center, April 18-22
Heinz History Center offers Sensory Friendly Days with free admission for those with sensory sensitivities from April 18-22. An accompanying caregiver is included as well. The History Center partnered with Autism Connection of Pennsylvania and other leaders in the region’s autism community to make these days a more sensory-friendly experience. Modifications include lighting and sound adjustments, creating designated break and rest spaces, providing gender-neutral family restrooms and offering increased directional signage throughout the museum. A sensory-friendly storytime with a tactile book is scheduled for 11-11:30 a.m. on April 18, 20 and 21. Register for your free admission tickets here.
2. Carnegie Science Center, May 15 and more dates (see below)
Kids – and grownups – with sensory issues will enjoy Sensory Sensitive Science Hours, happening on select Sundays from 9 a.m.-noon at Carnegie Science Center. The safe and welcoming environment includes adjusted sound and lights, as well as special activities for a fun and educational experience. Mark your calendar for May 15, July 24, Sept. 4 and Nov. 13. To best prepare for your visit, check out the Science Center’s Adventure Guide, which includes facilities and exhibit information, along with sensory and accessibility questions. Sensory Sensitive Science Hours activities are included in general admission.
3. Gemini Theater, April 15 and 16
Gemini Theater will perform a unique adaptation of “The Little Prince” this month. The production, created by one of Gemini’s acting workshop students, was inspired by the beloved book, “Le Petit Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Kids who need extra attention paid to lighting, sound and other special effects will enjoy the sensory-friendly, immersive experience. They’ll be seated on the floor among planets and stars as characters move around them. Feel free to bring cushions or blankets. Chairs will be provided for accompanying grownups. “The Little Prince” will be performed on April 15 and 16. Tickets are $14-$15.
4. Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, ongoing
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium became the first zoo in Pennsylvania to be certified sensory-inclusive when it teamed up with KultureCity to develop appropriate resources for those with sensory sensitivities. The sensory certification process includes hands-on training to enable staff to recognize guests with sensory needs and respond appropriately.
Borrow a sensory bag, available at the Guest Services booth near the zoo entrance. The bags include noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools and verbal cue cards. Weighted lap pads can be requested, too, to help calm an anxious child. You can also enhance your visit to the zoo and other sensory-certified destinations by downloading the KultureCity All-inclusive App.
5. Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Saturdays monthly
Before Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s monthly Super Science Saturdays, event planners make sure kids with sensory issues can enjoy the theme of the day. Sensory Friendly Hours allow families to come to the museum from 8:30-10 a.m. before the museum opens to the public, avoiding the clamoring crowd. Visitors can take advantage of tours and quiet zones. The upcoming subject on April 16 is all about eggs in nature: Eggstravaganza. Registration is $5.95 for kids and $9.95 for their grownups.
6. “Starshine!” at EQT Children’s Theater Festival, May 14 and 15
Jumping Jack Theater’s “Starshine!” will be one of the featured performances at this year’s Children’s Theater Festival. Kids will take a sensory-enriched journey through the galaxy as they admire constellations, dance with asteroids and listen to the soothing sounds of space. “Starshine!” has multiple performances on May 14 and 15 in a small, private room in the Byham Theater. Best for ages 5 and older. Tickets are $12.
7. Prime Stage Theatre, April 24 – May 8
Every year, Prime Stage Theatre collaborates with The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh to present a production that engages its audience in education, understanding and actions to prevent genocide. This year’s enGAGE performance and discussion is a virtual performance of “The White Rose,” streaming from April 24 to May 8. The story covers the life of a 21-year-old college student in Germany who was killed during World War II for her anti-Nazi activities with an underground resistance group called The White Rose.
Prime Stage makes a point of ensuring that shows are accessible to everyone. The performances are sensory-inclusive and a corresponding social story is posted on the website. Prime Stage is the region’s only theater company to attain Certified Sensory Inclusive status through KultureCity. This production is virtual and will be available with an audio description and closed captioning with subtitles in Hebrew and German. Tickets are $10 per device.
Watch for additional programming like “Arsenic and Old Lace” in May and “The Amazing Lemonade Girl” in June.
8. Pittsburgh International Airport, ongoing
For kids with autism and other sensory challenges, busy airports can be incredibly stressful. To help those little travelers, Pittsburgh International Airport created a sensory-friendly space where those with special needs can decompress, take advantage of calming activities and get acclimated to flying inside a real plane cabin before heading to the jetway.
The 1,500-square-foot Presley’s Place, named in honor of the boy who inspired it, is located in Concourse A. A calming transition foyer opens to a room with soft furniture where families can relax together. Individual rooms include bubble-filled tubes and a decompression area for adults. All of the spaces are fully soundproof, making them a welcome respite from the normal hubbub of the airport’s terminals.