A hideout for kids with autism

New play space opens in Glen Ellyn


Dan Campana

A big couch in one corner, a TV humming along and kids' toys spread all around-it looks like just about any living room you've ever seen.

And that's exactly what Lisa Kelly set out to create when she opened Kaitlin's Hideout, a play center for children with autism that opened in Glen Ellyn earlier this year.

"I wanted it to be as comfy and cozy as possible," Kelly says. "This is like someone's house."

Kelly's daughter, 10-year-old Kaitlin, was diagnosed with autism eight years ago. She describes Kaitlin as being at the "pretty severe" end of the autism spectrum, adding that Kaitlin is nonverbal.

Kelly spent several years primarily dealing with doctors and therapists, and unable to spend much time with support groups because she needed to care for Kaitlin. A former hotel and restaurant manager, she began crafting the concept for Kaitlin's Hideout because of the information and interaction gaps she experienced.

For $10, children are free to roam inside the Hideout from one play area to another. There are also quiet areas, including a pillow- and blanket-filled spot with a black light that avoids overwhelming the senses.

"It's a safe place to play," Kelly says.

Parents are welcome to play with their child or sit on the couch and talk with other parents. It's that kind of face-to-face interaction Kelly wished she had during the early years of learning about autism.

"I'm trying to raise awareness," Kelly says. "You really need to get support."

Right now, Kelly is trying to gather as much support as she can to boost the profile of Kaitlin's Hideout, which is registered with the state as a not-for-profit organization. She is accepting financial donations, but also will take toys, games, movies or computers to expand her offerings.

"Anyone who is touched by autism thinks it's awesome," Kelly says, adding she's had families visit from as far away as Rockford and Gurnee.


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