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December 10, 2010
By Claudene Wharton
The University’s highly acclaimed Early Childhood Autism Program is getting some help from the Sierra Kids Foundation later this week, Dec. 16 – 18, when the foundation sponsors the Wild West Shootout basketball tournament to fund scholarships for children needing the services of the very successful program. More than $100,000 in scholarships has been given away over the past seven years, according to Patrick Ghezzi, director of the program and Nevada psychology professor.
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.
The program was a breakthrough in education and treatment for preschool children with autism when it began 16 years ago. It is one of only a handful of such university-based programs in the country, and its faculty are called upon by others throughout the world who want to establish similar programs for their autistic children. Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that one in 110 children is diagnosed with autism.
“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.
The University’s Early Childhood Autism Program is part of the psychology department’s Behavior Analysis Program, which earlier this year was awarded the prestigious “Enduring Programmatic Contribution Award” by the Society for Advancement of Behavior Analysis International, the recognized worldwide behavior analysis organization. In the 36 years the organization has presented awards, only five academic programs in the world have been honored as Nevada’s program was honored this year, for its sustained contributions to behavioral science via teaching, scholarship, research and service.
Ghezzi says the program’s groundbreaking work in autism has been very rewarding, and he’s grateful to all those who support the program.
“The Sierra Kids Foundation and the Wild West Shootout fundraiser this week helps us to help families in the area who can’t afford this labor-intensive treatment for their children with autism. The Shootout is a lot of fun and also raises awareness of autism in general, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Games run 3:30 – 8:30 p.m. Dec. 16, and 4 – 9 p.m., Dec. 17. On Dec. 18, the tournament wraps up with games at 4 and 5:30 p.m., the slam dunk contest at 7 p.m., and the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Participating high schools include Carson, Hug, Laguna Creek, Lowry, McQueen and Reno High. Daily admission: $7 for adults, $5 for children and students. Three-day passes: $15 for adults, $10 for children and students. For more information, go to Sierra Kids Foundation.