Rices champion cause of coping with autism

Mindy Rice is a coach’s wife, which means she is supportive and patient and understanding and forgiving. She is also a mother, which means she is tough and gentle and loving and instinctual, the one person a child can count on to always dissolve clouds of darkness hovering over them.

The event is called "An Evening With Dave Rice," but I’m guessing the UNLV basketball coach on Friday will point first to the woman he married as one whose tireless journey toward educating others is paramount to his foundation realizing its goals.

They will gather at the Palms to help benefit those impacted by autism, once described as neither a puzzle nor a disease, a challenge but certainly not a devastating one.

Dylan Rice will be 10 in June. He was 2 and still not talking, still not beginning to communicate in a way his older brother, Travis, had. Doctors suggested occupational therapy for a delay in speech. Everyone had an opinion.

For the next three years, everyone had his own idea about what was wrong.

"We went to so many doctors," Mindy said. "It became so frustrating. It wasn’t until Dylan was 5 that we received a true diagnosis.

"There is a stigma attached to the word autism in society. People hear it and think ‘Rain Man.’ But those are very severe cases. What most of these families need is early intervention and diagnosis. The sooner the better, so that you can begin treatment. That’s what we’re hoping the foundation can do – educate parents about what to look for. Like anything else, there are treatment options, and the child can go on and live life like anyone else."

She is forever grateful to those in Provo, Utah, where Dave was on the staff at Brigham Young from 2005 to 2011, and a friend whose child was autistic saw some of the characteristics in Dylan.

She suggested to Mindy that this might be the answer, a disorder that appears in the first three years of life and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.

The one that affects boys three to four times more than girls, that includes a broad spectrum of symptoms and whose most controversial issue might be its cause. Genetics. Environmental. Vaccinations. Diet. Immune system. Climate. All have been targeted as potential reasons for a child being diagnosed as autistic.

"Quite honestly," Mindy said, "I don’t know what we would have done without our friends at BYU. We were away from all our family and needed to find answers. I will always believe we were sent there for a reason, and a big part of it was the support system of friends we found in this."

Dylan is, a proud mother says, the most loving little boy you will find. He has a smile and a hug for everyone, although that last part worried me a bit.

Does everyone include Steve Alford?

"I’m not sure," Mindy said, laughing, "his brother would allow that."

Smart kids, those Rice boys.

They obviously take after their mother.

It is easy to rib Dave Rice this way, because if he has remained one thing since assuming control of the city’s most popular and important sports program and all the perks that accompany his position, it’s grounded.

His family helps most in this way. It’s not easy having an autistic child. School is difficult for him. Homework at night can be a long and at times maddening process. A father’s acceptance, never mind one whose life is engrossed in the world of athletics, can be slow to arrive.

That wasn’t the case with Dave Rice.

"Dads and sons have that bond, and dads never want to believe there might be something wrong," Mindy said. "But at the end of the day, David just wants his sons to be happy in life and succeed at whatever it is they choose to do. Dylan has taught us all to be more patient. David is the first to say, ‘My son has autism, and that’s OK.’

"The support we have received so far with (the foundation) has been a little overwhelming. We had no idea it would be this huge, having surpassed anything we could have dreamed of the first year. This community always steps up. It’s very humbling for us.

"It’s still about winning a game but in a different way. It’s about winning a game for these kids."

Mindy Rice is a coach’s wife, which means she understands the difference between a good shot and a bad one.

But she is a mother first, which means her heart is her children’s classroom, a mother to two sons, which means they will become what she makes them.

Lucky kids, those Rice boys.

For more information on "An Evening With Dave Rice," or the coach’s foundation, go to www.davericefoundation.org.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on "Gridlock," ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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