Autistic children get party of their own for Christmas

December 06, 2001|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

If you'd been a casual observer watching the children playing at a Christmas party last night at the United Methodist Church in El Centro, you could be forgiven for thinking it was just an ordinary children's party.

In truth, these are anything but ordinary kids.

They have all been diagnosed as autistic, from mild to severe.

As autistic children, they have a range of behavioral modes that don't always endear them to the general population.

That means they're usually the last invited to birthday parties, Christmas parties and all the fun activities other kids get to enjoy on a regular basis.

So this year, for the first time, their parents, all members of the Autism of Imperial Valley support group, decided to give them a Christmas party of their own — a party where no one would judge their behavior or call their parents to account.


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

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

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