By Maria Cook
Hamilton County has been nationally recognized for a number of qualities, from safe roads to low crime rates. But it also has become known as a place with an array of services and resources for Hoosiers with autism, including children and their families.
Autism rates are not tracked by county, but Kathy Pratt, director of the Bloomington-based Indiana Resource Center for Autism, said Hamilton County – and specifically Carmel – has developed a reputation as a welcoming place for people with autism.
“There are some really nice things going on in Hamilton County, so I think people flock there because of that,” Pratt said.
Brandi Wetherald moved to the area for that very reason. In 2015, her family moved from a small town in Johnson County to Carmel because of the services and resources available for children with autism and disabilities. Wetherald’s son, Caiden, has autism.
“The access to programs, services and resources are outstanding and the only reason we moved here,” Wetherald said.
Caidan, 17, works at No Label at the Table, an award-winning Carmel bakery specializing in diary- and gluten-free goods staffed entirely by people on the autism spectrum.
“No Label at the Table is his first job, and it has been such a positive experience for him,” Wetherald said. “Knowing that he can go to work and be understood has been such a blessing.”
Caidan also has participated in Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation’s adaptive programming at the Monon Community Center. The classes are designed for children, teens and adults with neuro-developmental disabilities and offer a wide variety of educational opportunities in subjects ranging from yoga to cooking.
Michelle Yadon, inclusion program supervisor at the Monon Community Center, said the programs teach skills beyond the subject matter of each class.
“All of our youth programming is skill-based, so we’re supporting kids so they can learn skills that they can then practice with their peers at school or with their families,” Yadon said. “It’s a combination of teaching social and physical skills. For example, in a swimming class, we’d be learning swimming skills as well as safety skills as well as communication, team-building and personal skills.”
Yadon said any CCPR program can be modified to be inclusive for people with neuro-developmental disabilities, including autism.
“Everything we offer is inclusive, so if someone saw something outside the adaptive program and they wanted to participate but needed some kind of modification to participate, we will try to make those modifications as necessary,” Yadon said.
“The adaptive programs at the Monon have been such a positive experience for my son, and the relationships that he has built with the employees at the Monon have also been very positive and beneficial,” Wetherald said.
Between Caidan’s job at No Label at the Table, programs at the Monon Community Center and participation on a Special Olympics Team, Wetherald embraces her family’s move to Hamilton County.
“These three resources have helped shape (Caidan) into who he is today,” Wetherald said.
A glimpse of CCPR’s adaptive offerings
Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation offers more than 230 programs each year designed specifically for people with disabilities. Some adaptive programs are designed for young children, while others focus on teens or adults. Some last for weeks, while others are single-day events or are offered a few times throughout the year.
Programs for children include:
- Adaptive Little Sports Stars, for ages 2-5. Children learn basic sports skills by participating in a different sport each week for one month.
- Adaptive Youth Yogis, for ages 6-12. Children explore yoga poses and breathing techniques in a supportive and encouraging environment.
Programs for teens Include:
- Adaptive Teen Bowling Night, for ages 13-17. A night of bowling, pizza and socializing for teens at Woodland Bowl on 96th Street in Indianapolis.
- Adaptive Teen Muscle-Up, for ages 13-17. An introduction to the fitness and strength machines at the Monon Community Center. Participants may attend a single session or multiple sessions throughout the year.
Programs for adults include:
- Adaptive Adult Karaoke Night for ages 18 and up. A night of karaoke and socializing at the Monon Community Center.
- Adaptive Culinary Creations, for ages 18 and up. Participants learn to cook a variety of dishes along with kitchen skills such as chopping, slicing, peeling and mashing.
Learn more at carmelclayparks.com/programs/adaptive/.