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Pittsburgh Airport To Add ‘Sensory Room’ For Travelers With Autism

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh International Airport is planning to add a calming room for people with autism in the Airside Terminal. 

The goal is to provide a space where adults and children with sensory processing disorders can decompress during the intense experience of traveling. 

Kraig Makohus, executive director of Autism Speaks' Pittsburgh chapter, said many aspects of being in an airport and flying can be overwhelming for people with autism.

"They are in sensory overload in a lot of situations where lights, sounds, smells, will drive them into a period where they shut down, or they experience a negative reaction to being in those environments," Makohus said.

Airport officials have met with Makohus and other local leaders in autism care to brainstorm possible features for the room. He said some suggestions that surfaced included soft, cushy floors and dimmed lights in soothing colors.

Wednesday evening, a public meeting will be held to get feedback from people with autism and their caregivers about what they hope to see in the room.

Airport CEO Christina Cassotis said there are only a couple airports in the world that have sensory rooms specifically for adults and children with autism -- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Shannon Airport in Ireland. A handful of other airports have "quiet rooms" not specifically tailored to people with sensory processing disorders.

Cassotis said the room at Pittsburgh International Airport will be available to anyone who might require a calm space before a flight.

"We see this really targeted to people, adults and children, with sensory processing issues," she said. "It could span a wide range of challenges that people face."

The public meeting will take place Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott.

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.