By Stacey Spain
Dr. Patrick Ghezzi is a force of nature wrapped in an intelligent, caring and unassuming package. He would much rather be off doing the work of the UNR Early Childhood Autism Program (ECAP) than spending time talking about his contribution to it.
His passion and commitment to training the next generation of Board Certified Behavior Analysts is matched only by his enthusiasm for assisting clients and their families. His goal is to help them leave labels behind and focus instead on how their behavior as parents affects their child’s behavior, and vice versa.
About 50 percent of the ECAP participants no longer have an autism diagnosis after completing two to three years of home-based intervention. Some kids walk into the program with a diagnosis but even then the staff is looking at behavior to change, not labels to define.
Participants (usually kids about three to five years old) benefit from in-home tutors who provide up to 30 hours a week of one-to-one intervention. This training and tutoring is expensive and intense.
The parents are screened prior to entrance into the program. As Dr. Ghezzi says, “We know we can assist the client but we also have to find out if we can be partners with the family.”
First, the staff and Dr. Ghezzi determine that the parents and family unit are prepared for the hard work and determination it takes to be successful in the program. At that point, the team integrates into the home, trains the parents and begins developing curriculum and delivering instruction to the child.
Master’s level and doctoral students from all over the world come to study behavior analysis at UNR. Training in ECAP, which is a part of the behavior analysis program at UNR, requires 100 percent mastery of the skills regarded as essential to providing treatment to a young child and family.
Prospective tutors spend many hours learning about behavior analysis and practicing with surrogates, and must master each step along toward their graduation as tutors on a child’s treatment team.
A continuous loop of feedback and skill improvement is ongoing in the program using observation and video to assess and improve the expertise of a tutor. The tutors work with the clients in their homes and in the community to fully integrate a child into their school, community and family lives.
When asked to share how the Wild West Shootout impacts the program, Dr. Ghezzi said that it brings together all the people who work in ECAP. It gives them the opportunity to acknowledge their accomplishments, to celebrate their camaraderie, and to visit with current and former children and their families who have graduated from the program.
He tells the story of Herb Santos Jr, a member of the Sierra Kids Foundation Board of Directors, dragging him into a locker room where a team was getting ready to play in the Wild West Shootout. Dr. Ghezzi shared with these young athletes that while they were there to have fun and play basketball in a tournament against some other fine teams, he hoped they also appreciated the difference their participation made in the lives of the kids served by ECAP. He thanked them for helping to raise funds in support of the families served.