Former players host basketball clinic for children with autism

Five-year-old Zollin Ellis, a little big man in a blue Touro University T-shirt that nearly touches the floor, dribbles a small basketball. When children come up to him to ask if he wants to play with them, it’s as though he doesn’t see them.

He just dribbles. First one hand, then the other.

A drill headed by former NBA player Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams and his group of former professionals at the Touro University Nevada gym in Henderson grabs the attention of most of the children. It’s the annual basketball clinic for autistic children, sponsored by Touro’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

But Zollin, bless his heart, just dribbles in the back of the gym as other children run by.

His mom, Alma Johnson, draws her son into the action every so often.

Then Williams hoists Zollin into the air so he can dunk one of the miniature balls, and the youngster beams.

“He’ll just tune everybody out and do what he wants over and over again,” Zollin’s mother explains. … He doesn’t engage with other children very well, doesn’t get into conversations or follow directions well. I’ve been on a waiting list for two years to get him the therapy he needs.”

Multifaceted disability

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a bio-neurological disability that affects development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills and cognitive function. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. has been identified with the condition.

The term “spectrum” reflects the wide variety of challenges possessed by each person with autism. Many autistic children are very bright, for example, yet can be socially impaired, with enormous problems in forming relationships or managing in certain environments because of sensory sensitivities or high levels of anxiety.

Before the recent Sunday session began, Williams, a former Toronto Raptors star and current Southern Nevada resident, knew that the kind of scene involving Zollin could play out. He’s held these clinics for six years.

“Some autistic kids get distracted, or just can’t follow directions — you just have to have patience,” he said. “That’s why most of them never get on teams and why I always to do this — so they might have some fun with other kids. I’m convinced if they get the right help in life, many will be OK. You can’t give up on them.”

A promising treatment

As Williams talked, I recalled a day in 2011 when I watched then 17-year-old Meg Crandy participate in a chorus rehearsal for a Desert Pines High School theater production. Her mother, Jan Crandy, who would become chairwoman of the Governor’s Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders, told me that when Meg was diagnosed with autism at age 3 she worried she’d have to be institutionalized.

Crandy told me that as a toddler, Meg only screamed and gestured wildly to communicate. And she carried a big spoon so she could stare at her reflection. The youngster would never make eye contact with others. She’d often fall to the floor and shriek when strangers came around, agitated to the point of vomiting or banging her head on the ground.

“We could never go out in public with her,” Jan Crandy said.

Then Meg’s parents got her enrolled in intensive, one-on-one Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, where a specialist essentially retrains the brain. It is the kind of therapy Alma Johnson prays Zollin can one day receive.

ABA worked. Big time. Meg socialized, got As and Bs in school. And today she’s working in customer service for a casino.

Success stories such as Meg’s are the reason the parents on hand for the basketball clinic remain optimistic. Many take their school-age children, most often enrolled in special education classes, to Touro’s autism center for after-school ABA and speech therapy. Pre-school kids generally are at Touro for the therapy earlier in the day.

Bethany Sanchez, the chief deputy city attorney for the city of North Las Vegas, has seen a huge change in her 6-year-old son Alejandro — his twin brother, Mateo, is not autistic — since he started attending the center at Touro. “ABA has really helped him,” she said.

His registered behavior technician, Tanisha Porter, notes that Alejandro, “now can hold a conversation, asks questions and likes playing with kids, not just himself. … I’m very proud of him. He wants to interact now.”

Improvements in care

Dr. Mara Hover, the new medical director of the autism center, said treatment is constantly getting better.

“We’re seeing significant improvement in children when it comes to their social skills and adaptability,” she said.

Hover said Las Vegas lags in available treatment for autistic children, meaning those such as Zollin Ellis must be on waiting lists.

Events such as the basketball clinic give families something to smile about. Celina Burns said she loved watching her daughter, 10-year-old Josephine Solins, participate.

“She was so happy. Normally she just likes to be by herself, but this was so high energy it gave her a feeling of importance,” Burns said. “Touro’s really helping her. She actually hugged people at the end and normally she doesn’t like to be touched. That was a big thing for her. I’m really thinking maybe her life is going to get better.”

About the disorder

Because autism is a spectrum disorder, it can range from mild to severe. It occurs in all ethnic, socioeconomic and age groups. Males are four times more likely to have autism than females.

A person with ASD might:

■ Not respond to their name (the child may appear deaf)

■ Not point at objects or things of interest, or demonstrate interest

■ Not play “pretend” games

■ Avoid eye contact

■ Want to be alone

■ Have difficulty understanding, or showing understanding, of other people’s feelings or their own

■ Have no speech or delayed speech

■ Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)

■ Give unrelated answers to questions

■ Get upset by minor changes

■ Have obsessive interests

■ Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles

■ Have unusual reactions (over or under-sensitivity) to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel

■ Have low to no social skills

■ Avoid or resist physical contact

■ Demonstrate little safety or danger awareness

■ Reverse pronouns (e.g., says “you” instead of “I”)

Source: National Autism Association

Challenges of autism in adulthood

A 2015 report by Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute found that more than a third of those with autism didn’t work or continue education in their early 20s, compared with less than 8 percent of young people with other disabilities.

Just a third of young adults with autism had ever lived apart from their parents, and roughly 1 in 4 were socially isolated, having received no invitations for social activities within the past year, the report found.

About 58 percent of those on the spectrum had worked for pay by their early 20s and their jobs were typically part-time and low paying, the report said.

About a third engaged in postsecondary education.

About Touro center

■ What: Center for Autism and Development Disabilities at Touro University Nevada

■ Where: 874 American Pacific Drive, Henderson

■ Contact: 702-777-4808

■ Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Children 18 months to 13 years can go for treatment before or after school. Parents must have a referral for treatment from a pediatrician, neurologist or neuropsychologist.

Treatment includes Applied Behavior Analysis, speech and physical therapy.

Medicaid, private insurance and cash accepted.

Source: Lisa Kunz, director of center

Paul Harasim’s column runs Mondays in Health. Contact him at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273.

ad-high_impact_4
Life
Barber sets up shop in grandfather’s old shop
Andres Dominguez’s new barber shop is filled with memories of his grandfather, who ran the El Cortez landmark for more than 30 years. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Life and times of a 90-year-old horse player
Leo Polito of Las Vegas describes meeting legendary jockey and trainer Johnny Longden on the beach at Del Mar. Mike Brunker/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Learning the history of singing bowls
Presentation at Summerlin Library teaches residents about the history of singing bowls (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learning live-saving techniques in Stop the Bleed class
Leslie Shaffer, an AMR paramedic, shows how to control bleeding during a Stop the Bleed course at the Summerlin Library. The class is designed to teach anyone how to control and stop life-threatening bleeding. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vicki Richardson speaks about on the power of art
Artist and arts advocate Vicki Richardson talks about the power of art to inspire and challenge. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DressCoders pairs tech with haute couture
DressCoders is a startup focused on haute couture garments. The company uses illuminated thread that is washable and can be sewn right into the fabric. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Brava infrared oven
In cooking with the Brava infrared oven,there’s no preheating. the bulbs can reach 500 degrees in less than a second. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sinks Merge Style And Utility
Study could determine cause of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases
Dr. Aaron Ritter, director of clinical trials at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, discusses his research on how inflammation in the brain impacts Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holocaust survivors talk about tragedy and friendship
Janos Strauss and Alexander Kuechel share their perspectives on life. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Siegel Cares' Santa delivers toys to kids at Siegel Suites in Las Vegas
Siegel Cares, the charitable wing of The Siegel Group, delivered toys to families at their apartment complexes in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Revisiting “Christ the King” sculpture
A longtime admirer of the sculpture at Christ the King Catholic Community in Las Vegas shares her perspective. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terry Fator Christmas House
Arguably better than a hotel holiday display, is Terry and Angie Fator's home located in southwest Las Vegas.
UNLV Winter Graduation Packs Thomas & Mack
UNLV's 55th winter commencement ceremony included approximately 2,146 undergraduate and graduate students who recently completed their studies. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Build-A-Bear comes to Reed Elementary School
Students participated in a Build-A-Bear-Workshop at Doris Reed Elementary School in Las Vegas, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the LVRJ
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center art depicts names of God
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center founder Sharaf Haseebullah talks about new diamond-shaped art panels featuring some of the 99 names of Allah at the main entrance the Las Vegas mosque. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holiday poultry with Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine
Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine explain the different types of poultry available for the holidays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Catholic Charities hosts early Christmas meal
Students from the Bishop Gorman High School football and cheerleader team helped to serve food at the Christmas meal sponsored by the Frank and Victoria Fertitta Foundation at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada on Sunday. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Incarcerated Christmas
This is the fourth year HOPE for Prisoners has worked with the Nevada Department of Corrections to create a Christmas for prisoners to visit their families. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2018 Homeless Vigil
Straight From The Streets holds its 23rd annual vigil to remember the 179 homeless individuals who died in Clark County this year.
Getting through the Holiday blues
Psychologist Whitney Owens offers advice on keeping your mental health in check during the Holiday season in Henderson, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military program gave meal kits to 200 families at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10047 in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. It all started with a chance encounter in a supermarket in Utica, N.Y., near Fort Drum. A soldier, his wife and infant had a handful of grocery items they couldn't afford. A Beam Suntory employee picked up the $12 cost for the groceries. The program has grown from providing 500 meal kits to military families in 2009 to providing more than 7,000 nationally this holiday season.K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women at WestCare Women Children Campus in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Former 51s manager Wally Backman chats about new job
Former Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman talks about his new job with the independent league Long Island Ducks during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Roy Choi on cooking for Park MGM employees
As he prepares to open his new restaurant Best Friend later this month at Park MGM, celebrity chef Roy Choi took the time to cook for the resort’s employees Tuesday. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Best Friend Menu Reveal Wednesday
Chef Roy Choi tells us what to expect from Wednesday’s Facebook Live Menu Reveal for his new Park MGM restaurant Best Friend. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like