In high school, Meghan Sinisi had an interaction with a person in a “life skills” class that was a real awakening for her.
“In that moment, I realized that autism is so much more than what I was taught about throughout school or during April, which is Autism Awareness Month,” she said. “When I actually had an interaction with a person on the spectrum, I realized there’s so much more than a diagnosis.”
So it was no coincidence that Sinisi, now the reigning Miss Pennsylvania, found herself visiting Presley’s Place, the sensory room in Concourse A at Pittsburgh International Airport.
In fact, Presley Rudge, for whom the room is named, was there to meet her. During her visit, Sinisi played with Presley, who is now 6, and even gave him his own crown.
“Thousands of people have come and visited Presley’s Place, so that means there are thousands of people that have benefited from this resource, so I think it’s amazing,” said Sinisi.
The Altoona native is representing Pennsylvania in the annual Miss America competition, which culminates in the pageant’s broadcast on Thursday. She studied speech language pathology and said she’s been an advocate for autism awareness and acceptance for the past decade.
“I want to bring more awareness that this is something families can access during their travel experience and to let people know that it’s available to them,” she said. “Having a sensory room available for children and adults alike that are on the spectrum or have any type of sensory processing issues is essential for the travel experience.”
When Presley’s Place opened in 2019, it received international attention from advocates, caregivers and families who lauded PIT’s efforts to make air travel easier for those with sensory sensitivities and other special needs.
Presley’s father Jason, a heavy equipment operator at the airport, submitted the initial idea for a space for people with sensory sensitivities, and he and his wife Sharon continue advocating for wider adoption of the special rooms.