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Visual barriers are no match for holiday spirit

NEWPORT BEACH – "Don't eat it, Ashton, it's for decorating!"

Ashton Nipp, 2, stopped and his eyes opened wide as he held a blue M & M millimeters away from his mouth and took in his older brother Nathan's instructions – just for a second. He popped the little blue circle in his mouth anyway and looked at his brother.

"I said, don't eat it," Nathan said, without looking up.

Nathan's cane rested against a table in front of him. He was hunched over the table, which was overflowing with candy decorations – gummy bears, M & Ms, Jolly Ranchers, Starbursts and marshmallows.

Click here to watch a video of the kids enjoying the festive event.

The siblings from Irvine were at a special Christmas event organized for a group of about 30 children from the Blind Children's Learning Center in Santa Ana, by the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort Friday morning. The children decorated candy ornaments, told Santa about their wish lists, and walked across a Christmas tree lot, taking in the fragrance of the pine trees and running their fingers through the prickly branches.

Nathan was born with a rare visual impairment called Peter's Anomaly, which involves thinning and clouding of the cornea and attachment of the iris to the cornea, causing blurred vision. He has had five corneal transplants, said his mother, Elly Sung.

Last year, his right eye became infected and damaged and doctors determined it was inoperable, she said.

"Nathan is pretty smart," Sung said. "He somehow manages to figure things out and that's always amazing to me."

He had no problem figuring out what to do at the craft table. Nathan deliberately picked up every piece of candy at the event. He held a piece between his tiny fingers. He shook it, holding it close to his ears.

"Look, I found a Fruit Loop," he told his mother in Mandarin.

Nathan can fluently speak four languages – Mandarin, Hakka, Indonesian and English – his mother says.

He then peeled the wrapper of a Jolly Rancher. He put it very close to his left eye.

"Oh, that's blue," he said, smiling.

He put it under his nose and took a whiff. Then, he carefully placed it on to a piece of white paper cut in the shape of a Christmas tree.

Nathan prefers bright blues and greens as opposed to pink or red, his mother Elly Sung says.

Ashton, who is fully sighted, believes it's his duty to pick up anything his big brother drops, she says.

"Ashton has gotten so used to picking things up that he'll do it for other kids too, if they accidentally drop something," Sung says with a laugh.

Working on the Christmas tree craft with Nathan was a learning experience, says Troy Lindquist, activities director at Newport Dunes.

"Nathan is helping me understand that just because you can't see, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy life," he said. "It is really nice to see him smelling, tasting, feeling the texture and figuring things out for himself."

Later, Nathan played with a blow up reindeer pulling a blow-up Santa out of a chimney.

Santa goes up, Santa goes down.

Nathan laughed and tried to pull Santa out the chimney before the reindeer can get to him.

It's a game he can't seem to stop playing. He giggled.

"When I see him smiling," Sung says. "I know he's having a good time. That makes me happy."

Contact the writer: 714-796-7909 or

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