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A Guide to Sensory-Friendly and Autism Activities In Pittsburgh

by Janet Jonus

There are many Sensory-Friendly/Autism-Friendly events in the Pittsburgh area. You can find all of the dates and times on the FamilyFunPittsburgh Calendar here: http://familyfunpittsburgh.com/events/ Just type “special needs” into the search area.

Updated September 4, 2019

NEW! For Fall 2019

The Lion King at the Benedum

Disney on Broadway smash hit, The Lion King, has returned to the Benedum with a Sensory-Friendly Performance on September 14th at 200PM.

Sensory-Friendly performances have accommodations for those on the autism spectrum or with Sensory Processing Disorder. The lights stay on low, sounds are reduced, the staff is trained, there are calm-down areas and fidget toys, and guests are allowed to get up and move around. Tickets are only available to those on the autism spectrum or with sensory needs. For more information: https://trustarts.org/production/63015/disneys-the-lion-king 

The Carnegie Science Center

The Carnegie Science Center has Sensory Friendly Hours on October 20th from 1000AM-100PM. http://familyfunpittsburgh.com/the-carnegie-science-center-sensory-friendly-hours/

ICANdance Adaptive Dance Program

Special needs children can learn to dance at the ICANdance Adaptive Dance program. There are two sessions on Thursday nights.

Kids learn Ballet, Jazz, and Contemporary Dance. The class is for children with Cognitive/Intellectual Disabilities, Autism, or Blindness.

Each class is 45 minutes long. Students must be able to independently go to the bathroom OR have somebody who stays to assist with bathroom needs. ICANdance is hosted by Siri’s School of Performing Arts at 33 Northgate Plaza Unit 6, Harmony PA 16037. The phone number is 724-453-0944. Details can be found here: http://familyfunpittsburgh.com/icandance-adaptive-dance-program-for-special-needs-kids/

1. Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

The Children’s Museum has monthly Sensory Friendly afternoons on select Tuesdays from 100PM-500PM. The lights and sounds in the Museum are turned down and trained staff is on hand to assist. The Museum also has sound blocking headphones, weighted vests and blankets, and wrist assistance cuffs available on any visit. There are social stories available on their website. For more information, check here: https://pittsburghkids.org/visit/accessibility
The Children’s Museum is open to the general public during Sensory Hours but crowds are usually lighter on Tuesday afternoons.

2. Carnegie Science Center

The Carnegie Science Center has NEW Sensory Friendly hours and accommodations. The Science Center’s first Sensory Friendly Hours are scheduled for November 18th from 1000AM-100PM. Additional Sensory Sensitive Science Hours will also take place on the following Sundays in 2019: October 20. Accommodations include lower lights and sounds, special exhibits, assistance from trained staff, calm down areas, fidgets, headphones, sunglasses, and more. The Science Center is open to the general public during Sensory Hours but crowds are usually lower on Sunday mornings. For more information, read the article here: http://familyfunpittsburgh.com/?p=2946

3. AMC Theater at the Waterfront

The AMC Theater at the Waterfront has Sensory-friendly showings of the most popular Family films on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month plus a showing of a “more mature” film on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month. Accommodations include a lower sound level, lights that stay on in the theater (not full lights but enough to see), plus guests are welcome to get up and move around, even dance, to the movie.
For more information, check here: https://www.amctheatres.com/programs/sensory-friendly-films

4. Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust sponsors Sensory Friendly shows throughout the year. Sensory Friendly show accommodations are show-specific but they usually include dim lights, lowered sounds, reduced special effects (no strobes, loud sounds, bright lights, etc.), calm down areas, fidget toys, and a special needs-friendly environment where guest can get up and move around. For more dates and times, check out the FamilyFunPittsburgh calendar: http://familyfunpittsburgh.com/events/

The Trust has announced the Sensory-Friendly performance of The Lion King at the Benedum. The performance in Saturday, September 14th 2019. Tickets are available NOW and limited. https://trustarts.org/production/65707/disneys-the-lion-king-sensory-friendly-performance

5. Prime Stage Theatre

Prime Stage Theatre on Pittsburgh’s North Shore presents classic theater and plays. Prime Stage welcomes patrons with disabilities with special performances for the hearing disabled, blind, and individuals on the autism spectrum and with sensory-processing disorder.

6. Pittsburgh Ballet Theater

The PBT offers a Sensory Friendly performance to The Nutcracker. This performance welcomes all special needs guests and their families. Accommodations include house lights on in the theater, reduced sound, reduced special effects, fidgets, trained staff, a calm down area, and relaxed house rules so get up and move around if you need to. The PBT page with more information is here: https://www.pbt.org/performances-tickets/sensory-friendly-performances/ You will find social stories and other information on their website.

PBT also offers Adaptive Dance classes at their practice facility in the Strip District. Classes are limited to 15 students. Accommodations include adaptive dance techniques in ballet and creative movement, a relax mat for breaks, and you are allowed to have an aide or parent present to assist. Classes are taught by PBT Instructors who have special training in special needs. For more information, check here: https://www.pbt.org/pbt-school/school-year-programs/adaptive-dance/

7. Flight Fit N Fun Trampoline Park Bridgeville

Flight has a Sensory Friendly Jump on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of each month from 600-800PM. The sound is kept on low (it is usually very loud) and the lights are dimmer. There is trained staff monitoring the jumpers. Flight is open just for Special Needs during these times. The cost is $8.00 for one hour and $15.00 for two hours. One family member or caregiver can jump for free with the special needs guest. Flight has a large jumping area, a younger child play area, a laser maze (lots of fun), and a three ninja warrior courses. For more information, check here: https://www.flightfitnfun.com/locations/pittsburgh/

8. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

The PSO has a yearly Sensory Friendly Performance. We will post as soon as we know when the 2020 performance date.

Accommodations include dim house lights, reduced sounds, fidgets, ear plugs, a calm-down area, a shortened 45-minute program, and the ability to get up and move around during the performance. Guests are encouraged to get up, clap, and dance and move to the music. ASL interpretation and closed captioning are also available. You can find social stories on the PSO website here: https://pittsburghsymphony.org/production/60274/sensory-friendly-concert

9. Little Lake Theater Canonsburg, PA

Little Lake Theater in Canonsburg offers Sensory Friendly performances throughout the year. Accommodations include house lights halfway up, reduced sound and light effects plus a warning when a sound or light effect may cause distress, a calm down area, trained staff, relaxed house rules that allow you to get up and move about plus sing and dance, and you are allowed to bring your own fidgets and comfort items. Little Lake has social stories, diagrams, and more on their website here: https://www.littlelake.org/sensory-friendly-performances

10. Pittsburgh CLO

The Pittsburgh CLO offers Creative Discovery Classes for children on the autism spectrum. Children learn in a supportive environment with specially trained staff. There are acting classes for kids 6-12 and musical theater classes for kids 6-17 (and an adult musical theater class for ages 18+). All classes are part of the CLO’s New Horizon Program. Each class is designed around the skills and talents of the students. Classes run in two sessions: September through January and January through May. For more information, check here: https://www.pittsburghclo.org/pages/new-horizons

11. Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh

The Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh have Storytime: Sensory Discoveries for children 3-5 years old. This program is for children with developmental disorders. The program has a story with stories, songs, and activities and is held at various library branches throughout the month. For more information, check here: https://www.carnegielibrary.org/event/storytime-sensory-discoveries-12/

12. Bounce U Zelienople

Bounce U has a Sensory Bounce on the last Monday of the month from 600-730PM. Accommodations include a limited number of people admitted (reduced crowds), reduced sounds, and trained staff. Bouncers are limited to special needs guests and their siblings. $8.50 per guest ages 2+ and $4.99 for guests 12-23 months. Reservations are required. Check the calendar here: https://www.bounceu.com/jacksons-pointe-pa/calendar/

If you have any Sensory Friendly activities to add to this list, please send it us via email: infofamilyfunpittsburgh@gmail.com

13.My Turn to Tri

The My Turn to Tri Special Needs Triathlon is open to all special needs kids. The My Turn to Tri was created by a South Hills family who wanted to share the family love of triathlons with their special needs son. All athletes get to compete in a swim/splash, a bicycle “anything with wheels” event, and a run/walk/wheelchair event. FamilyFunPittsburgh will let you know when next year’s race is scheduled. Read all of the details here: http://familyfunpittsburgh.com/my-turn-to-tri-special-needs-triathlon/