Tuesday, February 7, 2023 -
Print Edition

For Yariv, autism, statistics and sports compatible

Yariv Bennaim, wearing #33, with friend Ben Faber.I I can see it in my mind, I can remember it. I remember numbers, dates and calendars. Tell me someone’s birthdate and I’ll tell them which day of the week it’s on every year for the next few years or for last year. It takes me a few seconds,” says Yariv Bennaim, age 19.

Yariv lives with his family in Monument, Colo. His abilities range from mathematics to music and from statistics to basketball.

A senior at Palmer Ridge High School, Yariv has been the team manager for the varsity Palmer Ridge basketball team for four years.

As team manager, he keeps the statistics sheets for each player, each practice and game, and provides information to the team’s coach, Nick Mayer.

“Rather than handing out water bottles and towels to his teammates, Yariv was the team’s scorekeeper and statistician,” says his mother, Ilanit Bennaim.

“He remembers every play and scores made by each player on his team while he watches the basketball game. After the game, he writes it down for the team’s records.”

An avid basketball player, Yariv began volunteering for the Palmer Ridge High School basketball as a freshman.

He is known as a student with a hard work ethic, a warm and friendly demeanor, and a sense of joy and enthusiasm for the game.

Although Yariv has also played golf, soccer and tennis, basketball has played the larger role in his high school experience.

When he’s not on the basketball court, Yariv plays piano and percussion.

Yariv has participated in the Special Olympics for several years on a year-round basis playing basketball, supported by his younger brother Yair, age 16. A junior in high school, Yair has been a volunteer peer partner for the Special Olympics since his Bar Mitzvah.

The brothers play on the Special Olympics “Unified Teams,” which are athletic teams where peer partners are on the basketball court and the field with the athletes.

Although any sport is challenging at the high school level, it is often a very difficult path for students with developmental disabilities such as autism. Many high school sports aren’t designed to accommodate the unique issues and concerns of those with disabilities.

Yariv’s diagnosis of autism might have prevented him from participating in sports during high school if not for the efforts of his parents and the support of his siblings, Yair and Avital.

“I knew that I would have to figure out practical and creative solutions for Yariv and the school staff in order for him to be a part of the basketball community,” says Ilanit Bennaim. She is a strong advocate for those with autism.

She serves as a volunteer board member for the Alpine Autism Center, a non-profit that seeks to provide access to effective treatment for those affected by autism in the Pikes Peak Region, and a volunteer for the Colorado Special Olympics.

Bennaim has also served on the board for the special education advisory committee for the school district and is a volunteer parent mentor for families who have children with autism, Asperger’s and other disorders.

“These experiences have had a huge impact on my life,” says younger brother Yair Bennaim. “I appreciate and love my brother and I feel humbled by the fact that while Yariv struggles, there are other people who have greater challenges. I think I am more accepting, compassionate, non-judgmental and understanding when I see people with behaviors that are different.

“I have learned to stop and think about what kinds of challenges face that child and that family. Instead of turning away, I ask how I can help, and what I can do to make a difference.”

For Yariv, basketball has provided an avenue for his energy and love of sports and sports statistics, as well as an opportunity to socialize with students who are at different developmental levels.

“Friends are my favorite thing about high school. I have good friends in band too, but the basketball team is smaller, so they are my closer friends,” Yariv says.

His teammates have supported him by joining him at Special Olympics events and cheering him on.

Yariv’s success as team manager of the Palmer Ridge High School basketball team has made autism more visible within the high school. Coaches Mayer, Miller and Vandewarker joined the Palmer Ridge Basketball players who volunteered with Special Olympics athletes at a recent event in Colorado Springs.

Over the years, Ilanit Bennaim has seen the basketball team members gain an understanding of autism as well as character traits like patience, perseverance and compassion.

“These players have shown they are men of character on and off the court. They have stepped up and have shown that people like Yariv who are unique should be afforded respect, integrity and inclusion.”

When the Bennaim family moved to Colorado Springs in 2006 from California, Yariv enrolled in the second grade class of the Hebrew school at Temple Shalom.

He celebrated his Bar Mitzvah Aug. 13, 2011. Through the educational process he gained a Jewish peer group. Due to his memorization skills, he led the full Bar Mitzvah service without the assistance of the rabbi or his Hebrew tutor, Howard Simon.

Entering high school brought new challenges and the opportunity to have a role with the basketball team.

The highlight of the basketball season for Yariv was the team’s final game against Sand Creek High School where instead of gathering the team’s statistics, Yariv suited up in jersey #33 and played on the court in the final minute of the game. In front of a roaring crowd and with the support of the opposing team as well, Yariv scored four points.

Palmer Ridge coach Nick Mayer says, “That was a great moment for Yariv and we saw examples of good sportsmanship all around.”

Fans continue to watch Yariv’s accomplishment on YouTube.

Yariv has been described by some as a high functioning autistic savant with rare human memory capabilities and visual photographic memory skills.

Among people with autism, talents such as mathematical or musical skills are often measured on the extremely high end of the developmental scale.

Since the traditional educational system is not necessarily geared toward students with developmental disabilities, Yariv has participated in online classes through the district, particularly in math.

In addition to the required courses for high school graduation, he is in the high school band and takes a life skills course designed to help prepare students for jobs and independent living.

Yariv hopes to begin classes at Pikes Peak Community College next fall after high school graduation.

As Yariv finishes high school, his family continues to play a large support and advocacy role in his life and in Colorado Springs. Ilanit Bennaim is a real estate broker associate with Keller Williams Realty while husband Yuval Bennaim is a software developer. Their daughter, Avital, is a sophomore at CSU.

“I am drawn to psychology and neuroscience because of my brother,” says Avital. “I have always been amazed at how his brain works and his unique abilities like his photographic memory with numbers and statistics.”

She hopes that her studies in neuro-behavioral sciences will lead to a job where she can treat people with disorders and disabilities. “I have been affected with the struggles and blessings of having someone close to me diagnosed with autism.”

Many of Yariv’s friends envision him as the statistician for the Denver Broncos or any professional sports team. Yariv’s instant recall of Broncos game scores, plays and player statistics are legendary among his friends and family, whether they are game scores from a recent season or from years ago.

Longtime friend Josh Richman says, “Whether it’s a score prediction for a Bronco game or the date of a birthday in the future, Yariv is remarkable, and through him, I have had a glimpse into the world of autism.”

Copyright © 2016 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Leave a Reply