Pittsburgh International Airport Introduces New 'Sensory Room' to Help Flyers Who Have Autism

We, as special needs parents and families, need this in our lives," said Jason Rudge, who brought the idea to Pittsburgh International Airport's CEO

Presley's Place Airport Sensory room
Photo: Pittsburgh International Airport

Pittsburgh International Airport unveiled a new “sensory room” to help children and adults who have autism or other special needs feel more comfortable before their trips, which can often be overwhelming.

The idea for the room came from Jason Rudge, a longtime employee of the airport, whose 4-year-old son Presley has autism, according to TribLive.

The sound-proof room features a replica of a jet cabin — based on an American Airlines cabin — which allows passengers to get a feel for the plane before they actually board.

The room also is designed with soothing lights, bubble tubes and private areas for families to relax before taking to the skies. A bathroom also features an adult-sized changing table.

It was two years ago that Rudge and his wife Sharon discovered how much the sensory room affected Presley when they visited one at his school. Presley has trouble adjusting to changes in his routine, but the room was able to calm him.

“The difference was like night and day after he went into a sensory room,” Rudge, a 39-year-old heavy equipment operator at PIA, told the Today show. “He’d come out of the sensory room and be ready to interact with others.”

He then messaged the airport’s CEO with an idea — why not install a sensory room at PIA for the many families who could benefit from it each day?

“I sat down and did my research, then wrote a letter to the airport CEO with my idea,” Rudge recalled. “Two weeks later, she called me into her office and said, ‘This is going to happen.’”

It didn’t take much for the project to go underway, CEO Christina Cassotis said.

“It’s incredibly important that we are able to welcome all the passengers here who want to be here and we want to give them the best experience before they get on the airplane,” Cassotis explained. “We see this as an enormous public service and opportunity. It’s going to make things better for families and for their fellow passengers.”

Cassotis touted the 1,500-square-foot room’s replica cabin as a key piece to their hopes of soothing passengers with autism.

“It was made using all of the materials used in a real jet cabin and has all of the functions featured on an airplane. It gets kids and adults acclimated,” she said of the room, fittingly called “Presley’s Place.”

Presley's Place Airport Sensory room
Presley Rudge. Pittsburgh International Airport

Rudge hopes that families who have struggled to take flights in the past can now travel far and wide.

“I hope that everybody that has been wanting to fly for their entire life can start to go on vacations now,” Rudge told TribLive. “I hope this is going to catch on at other airports across the world and across the country. We, as special needs parents and families, need this in our lives.”

The Rudge family hopes they will be one of the ones who benefit from it as well.

“Now maybe we can actually go as a family on a vacation,” Sharon told the Today show. “A lot of people don’t understand how much stress it is on a relationship having a special needs kid. Being able to travel to relieve some of that stress would be huge.”

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