Sensory friendly trick or treat

CCPR Makes Recreation Accessible for All Abilities

From holiday events to everyday recreation, learn how CCPR focuses on inclusion


Flickering candles in jack-o-lanterns. Leaves crunching underfoot. Children dressed as witches, ghosts and superheroes running and laughing. These are the sights and sounds of Halloween. But for children with sensory needs, these aspects of trick-or-treating can be overwhelming or even make it impossible for a family to enjoy Halloween.

In 2019 Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation hosted its first Sensory Friendly Trick-or-Treat. Designed specifically for children with sensory needs, the program offered the spirit of Halloween in an accessible way.

JensonCourtney Locke’s son has participated in CCPR’s recreation programs for the last four years. When she heard about the event, she knew it was perfect for her family.

“My son Jenson has autism and we had a great time at the Sensory Friendly Trick-or-Treat event in 2019,” Locke said. “The event wasn’t very crowded, all the volunteers were kind and patient, and the outdoor environment was safe and low stimulation. It was the perfect practice run for the proper holiday.”

Sensory Friendly Trick-or-Treating is designed to offer a positive and fun-filled replacement for Halloween or serve as an extra layer of familiarity prior to the actual Halloween festivities. Creating a comfortable environment is at the core of this event. It’s a calm, low-pressure experience, says Katie Smith, CCPR inclusion team member and Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist.

“Our goal is for everyone in our community to be included in everyday recreation programming and holiday events,” Smith shared. “We know Halloween, in particular, can be dark and scary, so we’re removing those barriers and allowing families to create memories in a safe yet holiday-spirited environment.”

What does Sensory Friendly Mean?

Individuals with sensory needs – sensitivity to light, sound, smell, touch, or movement – have difficulty receiving and responding to information from their senses. Daily activities can be difficult to navigate, let alone large events or holidays.

Sensory friendly events are designed for those who might become overwhelmed or overstimulated by their senses. During specially planned events, the environment is altered to create a space where families are comfortable and can fully participate.

“Sensory friendly and adaptive events allow our children to have all of the typical childhood experiences, in an environment that is safe and allows them to really enjoy themselves,” Locke said. “These events also help create a sense of community amongst our families; they’re a great way to make new friends and run into old friends!”

Sensory friendly events are just one way CCPR’s adaptive programs address the needs of individuals with disabilities in our community.

Carmel Clay Parks Focuses on Inclusion

Sensory friendly trick or treatOne of CCPR’s core values is inclusion. Every single program CCPR offers is inclusive. That includes recreation programming, camps, and Extended School Enrichment before- and after-school programming at Carmel’s 11 elementary schools. [BK1] 

“The CCPR inclusion team does an amazing job including all community members in recreation activities,” said Locke. “Families travel from all over the county and metro area to attend these events because this level of inclusion is rare in parks departments.”

Every season CCPR offers dozens of adaptive programs, including a variety of new programs each season, ranging from sports to wellness to social events. Adaptive programs are designed specifically for individuals with disabilities. We offer programs for individuals ages 6-months-old and older. Programming is open to everyone, not just residents of the City of Carmel and Clay Township.

CCPR employs a team of experienced professionals, who all have backgrounds working with people with disabilities, to develop and facilitate adaptive programs. Programming is broken down into age-appropriate groups and based on developmental needs. Here is the full breakdown:

Preschool Programs

Programs are designed for ages 2 – 5 and largely focus on sensory development and exploration. For example, Little Swimmers and Puddle Splashers encourage participants to explore the world around them through sensory exercises.

Youth Programs

Our youth programs are designed for ages 6 – 12 and include skill-based options like Biking Basics and Youth Hoopers.  These program activities help participants develop their gross motor and social skills.

Teen Programs

Social and fitness-based programs are designed for ages 13 – 17. Muscle-Up teaches exercise skills and confidence while social programs like Teen Night Out provide opportunities to spend time with friends and develop social skills.

Adult Programs

Adult programs are goal-based and designed for individuals 18+. The purpose of these programs, like Culinary Creations and the 5K Training Program, is to help participants set, work toward, and meet a goal.

trick or treatingListening to Our Community

CCPR’s adaptive programs serve 150+ families annually. A big reason for continued growth is the team’s dedication to evaluating existing and new programs and listening to participant feedback.

When Sensory Friendly Trick-or-Treat was first offered in 2019, several families shared it was the first time they’d ever been able to experience trick-or-treating. A great reminder of why we do what we do, and why we continually strive to develop new programming to meet our community’s needs.

To explore CCPR’s current adaptive program offerings, check out the seasonal program guide.

Written By: Jylian Riches
Jylian is the Marketing Director for Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation. She oversees the Department and has written the creative for numerous marketing publications and campaigns.