Children with autism learning to reach out through university’s program

Edward O’Connell walked outside his Las Vegas home and began to play with some boys in his neighborhood.

It might sound like your typical after-school or Saturday morning neighborhood activity.

It’s not.

Edward, 9, has autism. And until that particular day, he had shown no desire to play with other kids. It’s a task just to get him to show interest in his own family, said his mother, Sue O’Connell.

But through a new social skills training group offered at Touro University’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Edward and other children with autism spectrum disorders are starting to reach out.

"I just want him (Edward) to be as normal as possible,” O’Connell said one Wednesday night following a social group session at Touro. "I want him to know the rules, that there are other people in the room. I want him to look people in the eye. I want him to understand that people have feelings. I want him to have friends."

O’Connell believes Touro’s social skills group, known as Children’s Friendship Training, has provided him help that no other autism program has yet to match.

The training, modeled after a program at the University of California, Los Angeles, is a 12-week program designed to provide children with tools to help them communicate.

Those tools include teaching children how to interact with others by having back and forth conversations. The group also aims to teach children how to be good sports and offer praise to others.

What’s unique about the group is that parents are involved.

As their children are in one room, parents take part in their own social skills class where they learn how to assist their children in acquiring the social skills they lack.

"If you think about the general way society is structured, language and communication is what drives us. We have to be able to communicate, and yet social skills are never really ever taught,” said Nicole Cavenaugh, director of clinical neuropsychology at Touro’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

"It’s not like you take a class to learn appropriate social interaction. But one of the core features of children with an autism spectrum disorder is that they have major deficiencies in the area of social communication. Right away, the deck is stacked against them."

Autism spectrum disorders are developmental disorders that cause substantial impairments in social interaction and communications. Many children don’t respond to their names.

Children who are autistic typically begin showing signs by age 3. They often lose their ability to make sounds and walk, and their social skills disappear. Some exhibit more severe symptoms than others.

In some situations, children with autism don’t know how to determine if someone is happy or upset.

"We can show a child with an autism spectrum disorder a photo of someone who is smiling and ask them to tell us what that person is feeling, and they can’t. They’re just not in tune with other people,” Cavenaugh said. "They lack interpreting skills.”

Lawmakers are pushing health insurance providers to cover autism treatment and therapies, something they haven’t always done.

Nevada legislators are considering Assembly Bill 162, which would require insurance companies licensed in the state to cover autism treatment. The bill is being presented to the Assembly today at 1:30 p.m.

At 1 p.m., members of the Autism Coalition of Nevada, family members and advocates have scheduled a news conference at the Sawyer Building, where the meeting is being videoconferenced.

Nevada lawmakers and advocates are pushing for more state funding toward autism, which already has been cut in the state’s current budget proposal.

Autism therapy can require 30 to 40 hours of intervention weekly, and can cost families tens of thousands of dollars per year. Touro’s program costs $75 per session.

The program doesn’t accept health insurance but is in the process of becoming credentialed to do so, officials said.

During a recent legislative hearing, Jan Candy of the Autism Coalition of Nevada said the state is serving fewer than 6 percent of children with autism.

There is no known cause of autism nor is there a cure. As of 2005, the state’s Health Division estimated Nevada has about 4,000 autistic children.

Cavenaugh, who also recently met with lawmakers to discuss autism, said there’s a lot of interest in Carson City.

Because the children’s training program has already proven successful at UCLA, where Cavenaugh trained, she believes it will be a success in Nevada. UCLA operates one of eight National Institute of Health Centers of Excellence in autism research.

The social group meets weekly and addresses common problems associated with children who have behavioral disorders.

Weekly group sessions involve role-playing, discussions or home assignments. A lot of emphasis is placed on home assignments.

One home assignment involved the children calling another child in the group, or a friend or relative, by telephone. The following week the children were asked to share their telephone conversations, which most were able to do successfully.

In another home assignment, called "slipping in,” parents were asked to take their children to a location where other children play and drop them off. The objective was to encourage their children to join play groups and make new friends.

Exercises like that have proven successful for some of the kids in Touro’s program, Cavenaugh said.

She said some are now having conversations with their parents without abruptly ending them. In other situations, like Edward’s, the children are making friends.

"Literally every week we’re seeing progress. Edward is probably one of our biggest success stories,” Cavenaugh said.

"The first two weeks I didn’t know if he was going to make it. He’s become one of the group’s stars. But all of them are doing so well."

Contact reporter Annette Wells at awells or 702-383-0283.

The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
The world's longest racetrack could be coming to Pahrump
Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump might be the first racetrack in the world longer than 16 miles long once the expansion is complete. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Search for missing 3-year-old boy at Sunset Park
Las Vegas police and Red Rock Search and Rescue team search for a missing child at Sunset Park in southeast Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept.2, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks at Las Vegas tech conference
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan after advocating for girls' education, spoke at VMworld 2018 at Mandalay Bay. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like