Paige Madden of El Centro, a member in the support group and mother of two autistic children, called the party, "An opportunity for everybody to be included. If the kids are acting a little different, nobody stares at them — everybody understands because we're kind of like a big family."
A Dino jump set up in the playground was a major attraction for the kids — they could "bounce off the walls" with impunity within the safe confines of the jump while their parents stood by chatting among themselves.
Meanwhile, in a side room off the main church hall, a photographer with an infinite amount of patience arranged family groups in front of a Christmas backdrop.
Karen Justus, grandmother of the two Madden boys, explained how difficult it could be for families with an autistic child to have a photo taken in a commercial studio.
"It takes a lot more time and patience to get a nice family photo with the children and that's not always possible in a commercial studio. For a lot of our families here tonight, this will be the first opportunity for them to have a professional family portrait taken … this way they can take all the time they need."
Lots of food and a visit from Santa rounded out the evening for the 30-odd Imperial Valley families attending the party.
For more information on the autism support group, call Madden at 337-2107 or visit the Web site at www.autismofimperial.com
The support group meets from 7-9 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month at the United Methodist Church at the corner Olive and Eighth streets in El Centro.
There is child care provided and a professional interpreter is available for Spanish-speaking participants.
>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or firstname.lastname@example.org