The need for more and better resources and support for individuals with autism and their families has never been greater. One in 58 children in Utah is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Recently, some concerned and caring community members came together with Utah Valley University to find a solution. That solution is the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism in the new Cole Nellesen Building. UVU cut the ribbon on the new center, located on 800 South in Orem on May 3, 2017.

Matthew Holland, The Nellesen family, The Wood family, Teresa Cardon, and others cut the ribbon for the autism center.

The $8.4 million facility was completely funded by private donations. It will help UVU connect with autism support organizations in the region to create innovative strategies for support and education. Training in the center will prepare students, faculty members, families, professionals, and community partners to better understand and support those with autism.

UVU offers an autism certificate program for professionals and Utah’s only minor in autism studies. UVU students interested in autism support and education can also earn a Master of Education in Applied Behavior Analysis.

NUVI executive chair Keith Nellesen and his wife, Melisa, made the naming gift for the center. The building is named for their son, Cole, who was diagnosed with autism as a young child.

“As a parent of a child with autism, you dream of helping other parents,” said Melisa Nellesen. “This is a place where we can teach educators and give them all of the training they need to teach kids with autism.”

J. Brent and Kathryn P. Wood made naming gifts for the center’s two floors. The center also provides a home for UVU’s Passages program. The program teaches social skills and independent life skills to young adults with high-functioning autism. Passages students can relax and socialize in the William & Lisa Hopkins Passages Lounge.

The Vivint Sensory Rooms are designed to help individuals with autism regulate their sensory systems. In the dōTERRA playgrounds and sensory garden, children with autism can play and explore.

UVU education students will learn how to recognize and teach children on the autism spectrum in the Casey and Chelsea Baugh Classroom. The Todd and Andrea Pedersen Pre-K Classroom provides the optimal learning environment for young children.

dōTERRA playground for children with autism features slides, a rock climbing wall, and multiple interactive spaces

“The water features, the playground, the interactive dynamic space — behind it is a lot of science about how you inspire, teach, and motivate individuals on the spectrum,” said UVU President Matthew S. Holland. “The challenges autism presents are complex, and we intend to become a leader in helping families, individuals, educators, employers, and a host of others in dealing with those challenges.”