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New UVU Autism Center Aims To Find Answers, Not Cures

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Lee Hale
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KUER
The new Cole Nellesen Building on UVU campus.

Utah Valley University opened the doors to their new autism center with a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday.

The new Cole Nellesen Building is named after a young man with autism and it will house the MelisaNellesen Center for Autism, named after Cole’s mother. The Nellesen’s have done a lot to provide financing for the center and raise awareness for Utahns like Cole.

 

Roughly 1 in 58 children in Utah are born with autism which is higher than the national average of 1 in 68. Teresa Cardon, the director of the center, says this new building exists to serve that population.

 

“We’re about supporting individuals who are here, who are here with us now who need better answers and their families need better answers and our community needs better answers," says Teresa. "So we’re going to support finding those answers and working with individuals to the best of our ability.”

Notice Cardon says “answers,” not “cures.” While there are a lot of autism centers across the country that focus on research and causes, at UVU they focus on what can be done now.

“This is really a one stop shop for how you practically respond to [autism]," says UVU President Matt Holland.

Holland says this building will provide training for educators but there will also be resources to help parents cope and assistance for students with autism who are beyond public school age.

They even train police and first responders who increasingly encounter residents on the autism spectrum during crisis situations.

Holland says that autism is a unique disability that requires a unique and informed approach.

The hope is that this center will serve as a way to empower an entire community to better help this growing population.

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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