UNLV's Rice vows to make difference with new foundation

Dave Rice wanted to do this sooner, but he believed he needed to become a head basketball coach first.

Rice, in his first season leading UNLV's program, announced Thursday the formation of the Dave Rice Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and support of health initiatives.

"We've talked for a long time about making a difference for others," said Rice, whose wife, Mindy, also will take an active role in the foundation. "I know we have to win and do it the right way, but that's not enough."

Autism awareness is among the initial causes the Dave Rice Foundation plans to support. The Rices' 9-year-old son Dylan has battled the developmental disorder since he was 2.

Autism affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. It usually occurs between childbirth and age 3. According to statistics from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3 million American children -- about 1 of every 70 boys -- have autism.

"Those are staggering numbers," Dave Rice said. "It's almost incomprehensible. But as parents of a child with special needs, we need to do everything we can so we can help other families."

Mindy Rice explained that Dylan struggled with speech as a toddler and she thought something was wrong. She took him to several doctors in Utah, where Dave was an assistant coach at Utah State, and later, at Brigham Young. Some said Dylan was fine. Others thought there was a neurological problem but couldn't pinpoint it.

"We must have seen 10 to 15 doctors," she said, her voice cracking. "It was so frustrating. Meanwhile, we lost three years where if Dylan were properly diagnosed earlier, we could have helped him sooner."

Dylan's autism was confirmed four years ago. Mindy Rice was determined that her youngest son -- eldest son Travis, 14, has no health issues -- would not lack love or attention. She has done extensive research on the topic and believes education is the key.

"No two children on the spectrum are alike," she said. "There are as many causes of autism as there are colors in a crayon box. Assisting families that have children with special needs is a passion for us."

To that end, the foundation's inaugural fundraiser is May 4 at the Palms. "A Night With Dave Rice" will feature celebrities, a silent auction, food and drink and autism awareness education. Tickets, priced at $250 per person, are available through the foundation's website: DaveRiceFoundation.org.

"If we can help just one family in Las Vegas that is struggling to deal with autism and make that family's life a little easier, then this will be worth it," Dave Rice said.

The Rices also have a valuable resource on campus with UNLV being home to the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, where special educators and materials are available to families dealing with autism.

"We do a lot of parent training," said Shannon Crozier, the center's associate director who will assist Rice's foundation. "Education is the first step in helping families deal with autism."

As for going public with a family health matter, Mindy Rice said she doesn't mind sharing Dylan's life with the world.

"It really wasn't a big concern for us," she said. "Dylan is the first person to tell you he has autism. He's a little educator on autism."

Thanks to his parents, he'll now have a bigger platform.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.