Autism Connection of PA is hosting Sensory Friendly Snow Fairies on Saturday, December 9th at the Achieva office, 711 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh 15203.  Free parking is available all around the building. Registration is limited to five families per one half (1/2) hour. Please choose an arrival time and bring a camera!

Register Here!

Sensory Friendly Santa

Autism Connection of PA is hosting a Sensory Friendly Santa on Saturday, December 9th at the Achieva office, 711 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh 15203.  Free parking is available all around the building. Registration is limited to five families per one half (1/2) hour. Please choose an arrival time and bring a camera!

Register Here!

Four Quick Tips for Picky Eaters

People have all kinds of reasons for food aversions or avoidance.  Sensory (like experiencing strong or “weird” tastes, loud noises that crunchy foods make when chewed, uncomfortable pressure on teeth and jaws when chewing), motor (slippery or soft foods may hard for a person to control in their mouth without accidentally gagging) or negative memories like choking or being at a sad event when eating a food, all may affect one’s “food future”.

Some people may also have obsessive compulsive disorders that dictate how, when, and how much they eat, or hidden mental and emotional rules dictating things like if foods are “allowed” to touch each other, be eaten “out of order” or that one must avoid eating an odd number of  things (like grapes) vs. an even number.  Best wishes to the family chef – or to you yourself – if food variety is limited by disabling conditions.  But fear not, here are some ways which may help anyone eat a wider variety of foods.

1. Put favorite foods with all the food you are offering

Picky eaters may gravitate to certain foods, and this can lead to making special dishes just for them. Try putting their favorite foods as part of a selection of a variety of foods. Putting everything in the middle of the table creates a sense of similarity rather than sending the message, “Your food is different from our food”.

Real family experience: Michael’s daughter, a picky eater, always stuck to her favorite chicken nuggets. By placing them alongside a variety of dishes, he noticed she became more open to trying new things, feeling like her choices were part of the family feast.

child selecting food from table

2. Add flavor little by little

Choose a preferred food and add a tiny bit of flavor in the mix. For example, a person who loves plain pasta with no sauce might enjoy having the option to dip the pasta, or simply add a very small, almost undetectable amount of sauce into the pasta to give it a subtle hint of flavor. If the hint of flavor is tolerated, gradually add more over time.

Real family experience: Eva, who preferred plain pasta, discovered a love for subtle flavors when her mom introduced a small amount of sauce. Gradually, she started experimenting with different sauces, turning mealtime into a flavorful adventure.

child thinking looking at pasta

3. Deconstruct complicate dishes

Serving a dish that has multiple ingredients can look and taste overwhelming. Try offering ingredients that they can choose and assemble as they like. For example, taco night might feature tortillas alone with a separate bowl of each filling. People could eat each item separately, or combined as they choose. 

Real family experience: The Smith family found that deconstructing lasagna into separate components allowed their son, with sensory sensitivities, to enjoy the meal. He happily assembled his plate with the ingredients he liked, turning a potentially overwhelming dish into a customizable delight.

lasagna ingredients on table

4. Add variety to familiar foods

Try favorite flavors or textures in different foods, and note how they are similar. “These are raisins. They’re soft, sweet and chewy just like the gummy candies you like.” Or “You love Goldfish crackers. Here are cheesy square crackers that can go with them.” You also might try using a favorite dip as a way to try new food “dippers”. Begin with their favorite food and dip, say carrots and ranch dressing, then add a new food, like one piece of celery, to allow a little more exploration.

Real family experience: Mark’s son, a fan of Goldfish crackers, was introduced to new flavors by pairing them with different-shaped cheesy crackers. The explanation, “These are like the ones you love,” made trying new snacks feel like a natural extension of their preferences.

goldfish crackers and round crackers


Four tips for picky eaters details in blog post

By experimenting with these family-friendly tips, you can turn the dinner table into a joyous experience for everyone. Remember to include favorite foods alongside a variety of options, creating a sense of togetherness rather than emphasizing differences. Gradually introduce flavors to cater to individual preferences and consider deconstructing complex dishes for a more manageable experience. Adding variety to familiar foods and using favorite dips as a gateway to new tastes can further enhance the positive, inclusive atmosphere at the table. Celebrating each unique palate is the key to creating lasting memories and fostering a sense of togetherness during mealtime.

What’s Your Student’s Post High School Plan?

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Learn effective communication, manage emotional challenges, and practice self-care during this pivotal time.

Join this webinar for practical insights and tools, empowering you to guide your student toward a successful post-high school journey. Register here


Mary Hartley is the Executive Director of the PEAL Center. PEAL works with Pennsylvania families, youth and young adults with disabilities to help them understand their rights and advocate for themselves. Mary is a parent advocate who got her start volunteering with the Pittsburgh Local Task Force on the Right to Education. In 2007, Hartley began her professional career at Achieva on the Disability Healthcare Initiative and has since directed and managed multiple Pennsylvania public policy initiatives.  For five years she worked on United Way’s 21 and Able (transition to adulthood) initiative with self-advocates and parents, professionals and policymakers, including #IWantToWork, increasing employment and financial freedom through three legislative changes. Hartley was appointed by Governor Wolf to serve on the Employment First Oversight Commission where she was the inaugural Chair. She has served on the Board of Disability Rights Pennsylvania and is past Chair of UPMC’s Disability Resource Council. Mary lives in Pittsburgh with her husband Bob and two children.

Lisa Giarrusso Silverman, Esquire
For the past 20 years, Lisa has actively volunteered to serve the interests of people with disabilities. This passion naturally occurred as one of Lisa’s adult sons has Down syndrome. Lisa currently serves on the boards of The Miracle League of the South Hills, The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, the Transition Coordinating Council of Allegheny County, and The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh. Lisa formerly served as a co-chair of The United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s 21 and Able Committee (now part of the PEAL Center) and served on the boards of Achieva, the Center for Theater Arts and the State Board of Education for Private Academic Schools. Additionally, Lisa served as President of both the Mt. Lebanon High School PTA and the Mt. Lebanon Choir Parents Association. Lisa also served on the Host Committee for the National Down Syndrome Congress National Convention that was held in Pittsburgh in June 2019 and coordinated the First Responder Disability Awareness Training that occurred concurrently with the Convention.