Understanding Autism

Autism is a broad spectrum that can include a variety of disorders such as sensitivity to sounds, unusual speech, poor concentration, poor eye contact, uncontrollable body movement, sensitivity to touching, and/or a non-responsiveness to commands and orders.

Every autistic person is unique. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a handful of autistic children and it was quite the learning experience as I was able to explore a variety of teaching methods. Reaching out to each child in a unique way enabled me to see the brilliance that was within each one of them. These wonderful children have so many gifts to offer, especially when nurtured in environments that enable them to succeed.

With a growing support and awareness in Pittsburgh, autism/sensory-friendly places have proudly opened their doors to the community. As supporters, parents and educators… THANK YOU for all the work you do; we’re so grateful!


1. Firefly Arts

Location: varies


“The Firefly Family Program provides arts exploration workshops for children, those ages 5-12 diagnosed with autism and their siblings, while simultaneously building a supportive community of parents with adult programming.  Each week, Firefly’s core artists will design open and malleable creative activities, based on a common theme, that follow the children’s lead, interest and sensory needs.  While their children work with the artists and trained volunteers, parents will meet separately for adult programming like therapeutic support, workshops by artists and service providers, art-making and drama classes, etc.”

Firefly Arts Website


2. Bounce U

Location: 65 Warrendale-Bayne Rd., Warrendale, PA


“The Sensory Bounce is a private event for children with sensory issues, their friends, and family.  For the Sensory Bounce, the music is off and chaos is held to a minimum so our children do not get overstimulated.  Staff is specially trained to understand the sensory issues our children encounter and are especially patient. Anyone with a sensory issue is welcome to attend, you do not have to be a member of the Autism Society or have an autism spectrum disorder.  The cost is $8/child, parents play for free.  Bring your socks!” – Bounce U website


3. Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

Location: Benedum Center 237 Seventh Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222


The Pittsburgh Cultural trust has partnered with shows to provide sensory friendly viewings of productions such as The Lion King and Pittsburgh Ballet’s Nutcracker.

“Our autism-friendly performance is adapted for people with a wide variety of sensory, intellectual, and social needs, including lowered sound and light levels, relaxed house rules, trained staff and volunteers, and a safe environment for families to come as they are, relax, and enjoy the performance!” – Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Website


4. The Woodlands

Location: 134 Shenot Rd, Wexford, PA 15090


“The Woodlands is a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children and young adults with disability and chronic illness. Using its fully accessible and barrier-free facilities, the Woodlands’ programs enable participants to experience social, cultural, environmental, recreational and spiritual growth. Serenely nestled in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, the Woodlands’ 32-acre site features: an indoor heated pool, 48-bed lodge, dining hall, creative arts and computer center, activity center, camping area, sports court, nature trail, amphitheater, and a par-3 adapted golf course. The Woodlands sponsors a variety of programs and is also available year-round to other organizations that serve individuals with special needs.” –The Woodlands Website


5. Pittsburgh Ballet Theater

Location: 2900 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15201


The Pittsburgh Ballet Theater presented it’s first sensory friendly performance of The Nutcracker in December, 2013.

“Being autism-friendly is more than just having members of the audience be on the autism spectrum. We are making the entire experience autism-friendly in three main ways: Production, Front of House and Staff/Dancer/Volunteer Training.” – Pittsburgh Ballet Theater website


6. Sensory Friendly Films at AMC Waterfront

Location: 300 West Waterfront Dr., West Homestead, PA

“The program provides a special opportunity for families to enjoy their favorite films in a safe and accepting environment. The auditoriums dedicated to the program have their lights up, the sound turned down and audience members are invited to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing!” – AMC Theater website

7. Pittsburgh CLO : New Horizons

Location: 719 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Creative Discovery Classes for Students in the Autism Spectrum : Drama is a powerful tool for teaching social skills, body language and the mechanics of social interactions. The CLO Academy’s New Horizons Program is proud to offer classes for children in the Autism Spectrum. Led by a staff of qualified, experienced teaching artists, this important program features compassionate and creative instructors and a safe nurturing environment.” Pittsburgh CLO website


8. Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh : Therapeutic Garden

Location: 1405 Shady Avenue in Squirrel Hill

“A 10,000-square-foot therapeutic garden at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh. The Nimick Family Therapeutic Garden was specially designed to help kids with disabilities heal and learn, and to help parents refresh their spirits.A gently meandering path leads visitors—on foot or crutches, in wheelchairs or with walkers—through a range of delightful features: a treehouse accessible via a gently sloping ramp / the Ann M. McGuinn Fountain of Hope, an interactive fountain shaped like a giant sunflower (the official flower of The Children’s Institute); kids can control the water’s flow by touching the controls or just rolling past in their wheelchairs / a Sunflower Pavilion for relaxing in peaceful shade, raised planting beds that will allow kids to learn about gardening as they develop fine motor and speech/language skills / plenty of benches where adults and children can rest and relax—including a special bench that surprises those who sit on it with pleasant recorded sounds / flowers, shrubs and ornamental grasses with a variety of colors, textures, shapes and scents to generate interest throughout the year.” – PR Newswire

Visit the Children’s Institute website

9. Horse N’ Soul

Location: 115 Gretna Road, Washington, Pa, 15301


Horse N’ Soul offers a variety of camps and lessons. They offer therapeutic horseback riding program for students with autism.

“Therapeutic riding strengthens muscles, improves coordination, increases reflexes, improves motor planning, increases range of motion in joints, improves respiration and circulation, reduces abnormal movement patterns and promotes sensory integration, stimulating tactile senses through touch and environmental stimuli. It also increases self-confidence and visual/spatial perception, and it helps individuals develop patience and a respect for animals.” – Horse N’ Soul website

10. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Sensory Story Time

Location: 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

“Stories songs and fun for children with special needs, their friends and families. An interactive, sensory exploration for the children and a discussion period for the parents will follow the program. Registration required. Contact Lisa for more information. While children of all ages are welcome to attend, the program is planned for children age 3-6.” – Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh website