New autism center at UVU to offer resources for Utah County residents

UTAH COUNTY – A ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the opening of the brand new Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism.

Residents in Utah County say they have been waiting a long time to get this building up and running.

“Utah County’s been kind of waiting for something like this for a while,” said Teresa Cardon, Director of the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism. “Families have not had as much access to supports, to intervention and to trainings.”

Thanks to generous donors and support from the community, a new building on the Utah Valley University campus in Orem will serve the Utah County autism community.

'Keith and I, my husband, we have a son that has autism, and we wanted to be able to help as many children as we could,” said Melisa Nellesen.

Keith and Melisa Nellesen donated the initial gift for the center and named the building in honor of their son, Cole.

“Cole Nellesen is just one of those quintessential human beings that make you remember why you do what you do,” Cardon said.

The 15,000 square foot building includes a sensory garden and two playgrounds. Once inside, you can find training rooms and classrooms as well as a Passages lounge for students on the autism spectrum who go to UVU.

The Passages program is for young adults with autism who are transitioning out of high school.

“It helps them transition into the community, helps them find a place that they feel comfortable, a place of hope,” Nelleson said.

Matthew Holland, President of UVU, said the building will play an important role on their campus.

“It not only helps students who are actually on the spectrum, but it will help our students who are going to go out into the fields where they’ll need to deal with these, so it’s going to have a ripple effect all across the valley and the state,” he said.

Cardon said they hope to improve the lives of many.

“We're starting to figure things out, and one of the things that we're really working on is making sure that we can figure out the best way to support individuals on the autism spectrum, because there are answers out there and we're helping to find them,” she said. “And we're teaching people how to use those answers to better support individuals on the spectrum.”