This Innovative Autism Center Is a “Beacon of Hope” for People Affected By Autism


The Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism is now open! Woohoo!

April was a fitting month for Utah Valley University to break ground on the Cole Nellesen Building. Not only is it autism awareness month, but the university plans to have the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism in the building. Utah needed a center like this, as one in 68 children get diagnosed with autism, and a center for autism is critical to help parents of children on the spectrum. The community clearly saw how important this center is, as it’s being funded entirely by private donations.

The name for both the building and the center come from the Nellesen family. Matthew Holland, president of the university, approached Keith and Melisa Nellesen, and Melisa told the Daily Herald that it took about 10 seconds for them to decide to donate. The building is named after their son, who has autism.

The UVU blog reports that the building is going to be 15,000 square feet, with a variety of rooms dedicated to helping the community, families and teachers, both present and those still in training. Building plans include therapy rooms for counseling, developing social skills in those with autism, and providing family support; laboratory classrooms for children in preschool and elementary school, and one of the most fun ideas, sensory areas. These sensory areas include rooms, landscapes, and entire playgrounds specifically designed for children with autism, who can use their senses in their own unique ways.

The Nellesen’s hope for the center to bring people together for autism. Holland considers this a significant moment for UVU, which is the only university in Utah to offer a minor in autism studies. Private donations have totaled $8.4 million, along with another $500,000 for technology and program support, so the university is on track to have the center finished by April 2017.

UVU is one of many schools at the forefront of helping those with autism. To see another school helping in its own way, check out how this school emphasizes the strengths of kids on the spectrum.

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