Thursday’s basketball clinic at Duke was personal for Haley Gorecki.
The sophomore guard knows someone with autism, so she knew what care to take when her team played basketball with dozens of children on the autistic spectrum disorder.
The event was hosted by the school’s Center for Autism and Brain Development to recognize Autism Awareness Month.
“One of my good friends back home has it, her sister does,” said Gorecki, a Palatine, Ill., native. “She’s awesome. Her name is Jessica, and she loves the sport of basketball. She knows I play here at Duke, so it’s really cool. A girl (here today) already said she can’t wait to play Duke basketball. Being a mentor for them is awesome.”
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Duke women’s players and coach Joanne P. McCallie were set up around different stations at the Wilson Center, adjacent to Krzyzewskiville, to instruct children of all ages.
Where the children were on the spectrum – the range of conditions that characterizes the challenges of autism – ranged.
Ally Garber, 12, is also deaf and has cochlear implants. She shot free throws with Blue Devils star guard Lexie Brown.
Emi Bello, 7, and his younger brother Dani, 6, dribbled around with junior forward Erin Mathias at half court.
The Bello brothers’ parents, Joaquin and Claudia, are bilingual, and the boys can understand Spanish but, because of communication barriers brought on by autism, they cannot speak it.
“They are on the side of the spectrum that is mild, but they still have challenges,” Joaquin Bello said of his sons, who both participate in local study groups. “Sometimes they lack social skills when there is more people, so they isolate. They have some repetitive behaviors. For us, (the clinic) is a social event where they will learn social skills.”
He said when one sibling has autism, the next sibling is 20 percent more likely to develop it.
Thursday marked the fourth time Duke’s Center for Autism and Brain Development hosted a clinic; last year, the men’s basketball team was involved.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported one in 68 children has autism in a study released this year.
For Gorecki, her friend Jessica is one of the most enthusiastic people she knows.
McCallie said Thursday was an opportunity to learn more about the disorder.
“Some of our kids have been exposed to children with autism and others have not,” she said of her team. “It will bring us together. Also, too, we’ve finished up our workouts. It’s a great opportunity to relax a little bit, have some fun, celebrate the wonderful game of basketball, but, most importantly, be with these kids … and in the process maybe learn a few things about autism.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan