Early Childhood Autism Program gets help from local foundation

11/30/2009 - By: Claudene Wharton

The University’s highly acclaimed Early Childhood Autism Program is getting some help from the Sierra Kids Foundation later this week, when the foundation sponsors the Wild West Shootout basketball tournament to fund scholarships for children needing the services of the very successful program. Close to $100,000 in scholarships has been given away over the past six years, according to Patrick Ghezzi, director of the program and Nevada psychology professor.

“This treatment program is highly effective, in large part because it is so labor intensive, and thus costly,” he explained.

Ghezzi said the program works mostly with 2- to 5-year-olds, spending a minimum of 30 hours per week one-on-one with each child for at least two years. Graduate students and undergraduate students studying applied behavioral analysis staff the program, under faculty supervision, employing positive reinforcement techniques that strengthen appropriate behavior and eliminate inappropriate behavior.

“This technique is wildly successful, and the world needs more of it to be available,” Ghezzi said, explaining that all the children in the program show improvement, and about 50 percent show total recovery – meaning they are indistinguishable from their peers when they enter elementary school, the ultimate goal.

In fact, Ghezzi and fellow psychology professor and department chair Victoria Follette have been asked to speak throughout the world, and even to help start up and mentor other programs modeled after Nevada’s program in countries such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Portugal.

Ghezzi is very grateful for the support of the Sierra Kids Foundation and the Wild West Shootout fundraiser for Nevada’s Early Childhood Autism Program.

“This is the sixth year of the tournament, so it has really gained a lot of steam,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, and it not only raises funds for the program, but raises awareness of autism in general.”

Wild West Shootout, Dec. 3 – 5, Reno High School:

There will be a slam-dunk contest at 7 p.m., Dec. 4, with Reno High’s Trevor English defending his title. The defending Nevada State Champions, the Reno High Huskies, take on the McClymonds High Warriors, the defending California State Champions, at 7 p.m., Dec. 5. Other local high schools participating include McQueen, Hug and Douglas. In addition to McClymonds, teams from Vallejo, Oakland and Fairfield will also make the trip from California to compete. Daily admission: $7 for adults, $5 for children and students. Three-day passes: $15 for adults, $10 for children and students.


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