Skip to main content
UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System

UC Davis MIND Institute turned into winter wonderland for children who participate in research

Cinderella greets a young guest © UC Regents
Taylor Rios, a staff research associate with the MIND Institute, dressed up as Cinderella to entertain Thank You Party guests, including Christine Soracco, a participant in the Infant Sibling Study. 

The UC Davis MIND Institute recently was converted into a festive winter wonderland for hundreds of children and their families who participate in neurodevelopmental research, complete with carnival games, bounce houses, performances by hip hop dance troupes and a theater group whose actors include children with autism spectrum disorders.

The holiday-themed event was the 7th annual UC Davis MIND Institute Thank You Party for the hundreds of children and families who participate in studies of autism spectrum disorders, fragile X syndrome, Tourette syndrome, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other neurodevelopmental conditions.

"It's the best kid thank you party I've ever seen," said Michele Milota, whose daughter, Katelyn, 4, is a typically developing participant in the Autism Phenome Project, which seeks to distinguish between recognized subgroups, or phenotypes, of children with autism.

More photographs of party

Click on photo for larger version

Dr. Rogers shows child how to "fish" © UC Regents

Girl plays ball toss © UC Regents

Dr. Amaral greets family © UC Regents

Dr. Ozonoff plays with infant guest © UC Regents

Young girls dress in costume © UC Regents

Milota said she decided to involve her daughter in the project because her older daughter, Aimee, 7, has a rare genetic disorder that affects only 250 people in the United States. But it's not a neurodevelopmental condition. Aimee has xerodermapigmentosum, and so cannot be exposed to sunlight, Milota said.

"We got a letter in the mail asking us to participate in research. I know how important research is because of Aimee, so we decided to participate with Katelyn," Milota said. "She will be going for her second magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study soon, and she loves it. It makes her feel that she has something special and important to contribute."

"The party accomplished its goal of saying 'thank you' to the families who are our partners in understanding neurodevelopmental disorders and who donate their blood, sweat and tears," Amaral said.

Dr. Amaral  © UC Regents"The party accomplished its goal of saying 'thank you' to the families who are our partners in understanding neurodevelopmental disorders and who donate their blood, sweat and tears."
— David Amaral

Megan Soracco is the mother of three children who all have participated in MIND Institute research. Soracco's oldest daughter, Angela, 6, has Down syndrome. But her behavior did not seem typical of children with the disorder.

The Placerville family would later discover that Angela also has autism. Her mother decided to enroll her two other children, Joshua, now 4, and Christine, 9 months old, in the Infant Sibling Project. The study tracks the development of younger siblings of children diagnosed with autism, as they are among those at highest risk of developing the condition. Monitoring their behavior can provide some of the earliest clues to the identification of autism.

"For so long, we tried to get a diagnosis for Angela," Soracco said of her daughter. "We like being able to give something back and help research."

The party is the brain child of MIND Research Director David Amaral, a professor of psychiatry and benavioral sciences.

"The party accomplished its goal of saying 'thank you' to the families who are our partners in understanding neurodevelopmental disorders and who donate their blood, sweat and tears," Amaral said.

The UC Davis MIND Institute, in Sacramento, Calif., was founded in 1998 as a unique interdisciplinary research center where parents, community leaders, researchers, clinicians and volunteers collaborate to study and treat autism, fragile-X related disorders, Tourette syndrome, 22q deletion syndrome, ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders. For further information about how to participate in clinical research studies, visit the MIND Institute Web site.