UNR Autism Program

The Early Childhood Autism Program at UNR
When you hear autism, what comes to mind? Do you think of the statistic that one out of 110 kids has autism? Do you think of your neighbor who has the child with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder? Do you think of Rain Man?

Dr. Patrick Ghezzi, a faculty member in the psychology department’s behavior analysis program at UNR and head of the Early Childhood Autism Program wants people to stop thinking of autism as something that children have and think of it instead as something they do.

“Autism can’t be diagnosed with blood tests or brain scans,” Dr. Ghezzi said. “A parent observes autism by watching their child’s autistic behavior.”

Children usually display signs of autism by the age of two, when they should be meeting developmental milestones such as making eye contact or certain social behaviors like appearing a little shy, or at the other end of the spectrum, a little too outgoing. Observing the frequency of certain behaviors like tantrums, for example, may or may not be a sign of autism. Are they long lasting and frequent or do they diminish when a parent ignores them?

Part of being involved in the program includes Dr. Ghezzi going into a home and observing how the parents respond to their child’s behavior. He’s found success begins with changing how a parent reacts to their child’s tantrums. The other part involves a team of highly trained and supervised undergraduate and graduate students working with the child in the home every week for 30 hours a week for a minimum of two years.  For roughly 50% of the children, normal development is achievable.

The UNR Early Childhood Autism Program is dedicated to improving the lives of young children with autism and their families. The scientific principles and established practices of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are at the core of the program. The practice of behavior analysis is complimented and extended by research that contributes to the knowledge base of behavior science. Whether practice, research, or both, the focus is always on the individual child and family, emphasizing the progressive development, refinement, and elaboration of meaningful skills and abilities.

As a university-based program, it is also a training site for graduate students pursuing advanced degrees in behavior analysis and for undergraduate students pursuing a degree in psychology or a related field.