The Heart of the UNR Autism Program

By Nicole Emmerich

When children are enrolled in the UNR Early Childhood Autism Program, they’re assigned a personal team of tutors. The tutors are specially trained through an intensive process, which allows them to spend 30 hours per week providing in-depth tutoring at the child’s home. They can also receive school-based services, depending on the child’s needs. While the program has produced incredible results for the children and their families, it also has left a lasting impression on the tutors.


In order to become a tutor, applicants must go through a rigorous training process. The training process is approximately eight weeks long and includes many different stages. Throughout the entire time the tutors are training, they’re under constant supervision by their immediate supervisors or another peer who has been in the program for a longer time.

Because of the extensive hours these tutors must work with the children they tutor, it’s imperative they have all the necessary knowledge to make the program worthwhile and successful for participants. The UNR Early Childhood Autism Program places extreme importance on the tutors it hires, who provide guidance and instruction based on their own experience in the program.

The training process begins with the submission of an application, followed by a meeting with Dr. Pat Ghezzi, a co-founder of the UNR Early Childhood Autism Program who is directly in charge of the tutors. If the applicant makes it past this stage, training phase one commences. This phase includes weekly meetings to learn about applied behavior analysis and all the necessary skills to work with the children in the program and run sessions.

After the completion of phase one, the trainee is placed on a child’s team and begins working with the lead tutors, who will then train the new tutor on how to apply what is learned in meetings and during training to working with an actual child in the field. Each child also gets his or her own program tailored to individual needs. The trainee learns how to work with this specific child. Finally, the trainee gets audited and if he/she passes, they’ll get to work with the child alone. The tutors and auditor must be confident this person is able to manage everything without another tutor there.

During the tutoring sessions, the tutors and children develop a special and close relationship. The tutors in the UNR Early Childhood Autism Program are also very close to each other. The entire program is like a big family.

“We are in [the kids’] homes daily from two to six hours and really become members of the family,” said Emily Skorzanka, a tutor for a little over a year.

Many of the tutors don’t realize when they join the program what a large impact it will have on them.  “It’s a privilege to work there. I enjoy it immensely,” Skorzanka said. “The people in the program are incredible. There’s great team collaboration with all of the kids in the program.”

The tutors get the privilege of seeing the children progress from the time they join the program to when they get out of it two years later. It is incredible how much growth can happen in that period of time. They are very grateful for the opportunity to work in a field that changes people’s lives so much and get the chance to develop such special relationships with these kids and families while making a difference in their lives.

While it’s clear this program changes families’ lives, what is less obvious is how special these children become to the program and how much everyone cares about their successes. They become part of an extended family to these children and value the relationships greatly. Although the tutors have a big impact on the children, it may not be as apparent that the children largely impact the tutors’ lives as well.