Rice family takes personal battle with autism public with launch of the Dave Rice Foundation

Non-profit organization will offer support and education to families with special needs children

The frustrations that a battle with autism have caused Dave and Mindy Rice are not uncommon.

But on Thursday, they took a major step forward in their efforts to help others in hopefully making the journey with autism smoother in any way possible.

The first-year UNLV men’s basketball coach and his wife announced the establishment of the Dave Rice Foundation, which will offer education and support to families with children dealing with developmental disorders, partnering with the UNLV Center for autism Spectrum Disorders.

“As a mom of a child with autism, I know firsthand the daily struggles and challenges that families face,” Mindy Rice said at a press conference held on the UNLV campus. “Just getting to that point of getting the diagnosis is extremely frustrating, it’s confusing. Once we had the diagnosis, my first question, of course, was ‘Where do we go now? Who do we see about starting treatment or therapy?’ And, unfortunately, the three years it took for the diagnosis was a cakewalk compared to what was about to come.

“Going back, I wish our doctor could have given me a name, a phone number, a pamphlet, anything that would be a road map that would give us a starting point to what came next on the journey through autism. Through the Dave Rice Foundation, I hope we can help to educate parents and the public about autism, to give them that road map and the resources to begin their journey.”

The journey for Dave and Mindy Rice began when their youngest son, Dylan, was two years old. Mindy recalled that Dylan’s speech was not developing properly, and over the course of the next three years, different doctors would give her differing opinions.

Some said nothing was wrong. Some said something was wrong, but they weren’t sure what. Some said it was likely autism.

When Dylan was five, he was finally diagnosed with autism, which is a neural development disorder that hinders social interaction and communication.

Now nine, Dylan Rice has high-functioning autism. The three years that were spent seeking a diagnosis, in hindsight, could have been used to start treatments or therapies to help Dylan develop.

The hope for Dave and Mindy Rice is that fewer families will have to deal with those same struggles with the help of the Dave Rice Foundation.

Starting the organization was made possible by Dave Rice landing a head coaching job 10 months ago after cutting his teeth as a Division-I assistant for more than a decade. The job at UNLV gave him and Mindy the platform to make a difference, and being able to do so in the Las Vegas community is looked at as an added bonus for the family.

“We understand the importance of winning basketball games, and we’re told we have a pretty important one on Saturday,” Dave Rice joked, referring to Saturday’s showdown with 13th-ranked San Diego State at the Thomas & Mack Center. “But this is something that’s incredibly important to us and the journey we’ve been through.

“I think the frustration for me, and I can certainly speak from experience, was that if your son breaks his leg, he goes to the doctor and they put a cast on it. If your son can’t hear, maybe he gets a hearing aid. The difficulty of autism was that we would go to the doctor and he would as us what we thought.”

Dealing with autism isn’t just something that Rice and his family deal with every day, but so do other members of the UNLV basketball family, which was also a motivation for starting the foundation. Assistant coach Heath Schroyer and senior associate athletic director D.J. Allen both have children who have been diagnosed with autism.

Allen, a member of the foundation’s board of directors, was on hand as well to speak at Thursday’s press conference and share his story. Like Mindy, he got choked up while telling it.

He also unveiled loose details for the foundation’s first event — An Evening with Dave Rice — which will take place on May 4 at the Palms Casino & Resort. More information will be available as it develops at www.DaveRiceFoundation.org, which is also where tax-deductible donations can be made.

“I believe the platform of head coach of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels is one of the most powerful platforms that you can have in this state, but with that platform, you have a choice to make of what you’re going to do with the platform,” Allen said. “What Dave and Mindy have decided to do is personal. They’re sharing with the world their story, their challenges and their vulnerabilities.

“They’re not doing this for sympathy, they’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do, to bring awareness to the journey that special needs children and their respective families have and help provide those families with resources.”