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December 12, 2011
By Claudene Wharton
The University's highly acclaimed Early Childhood Autism Program is getting some help from the Sierra Kids Foundation next week, Dec. 14 - 17, when the foundation sponsors the annual Wild West Shootout basketball tournament at Bishop Manogue Catholic High School to fund scholarships for children needing the services of the very successful program. More than $110,000 in scholarships has been given away over the past eight 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 17 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 are 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 last 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 37 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 help us to help families in the area who can't afford this labor-intensive treatment for their children with autism," Ghezzi said. "The Shootout is a lot of fun and also raises awareness of autism in general, so it's a win-win for everyone."
This year's Wild West Shootout tournament features Galena, Douglas, Reno, Hug, Manogue and North Valleys high schools from northern Nevada, and five teams from California, Washington and Idaho. Last year's Washington state champions, Lakes High School, as well as California's Long Beach Poly High School, which was ranked as high as #2 in the country last year, will participate. Former McQueen and Reno High coach, Eric Swain, will also be bringing his Buchanan High team from California to take on his former teams.
The year's tournament will also include the J.K. Metzker Memorial Game, Bishop Manogue vs. Post Falls, at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 15. KTVN Channel 2 Weatherman Mike Alger will be on hand for a special tribute to Metzker, who was killed Nov. 18 when crossing the street after a basketball game. Daily admission to the tournament is $8 for adults and $5 for students. Four-day passes are $27 for adults and $20 for students. For a complete game schedule or more information, go to Wild West Shoot Out website.