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Their Voice: Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism created largest impact to community in 2017

Daily Herald - 1/1/2018

For me and most of us, New Year's becomes a time for reflection and the contemplation of change. We look back on the year to determine the things that were effective and productive and try to find ways to eliminate the events that may have stifled us or slowed us down.

As I look back at the last year and all the events that I was able to highlight, the resources that I disclosed and the memorable people I introduced, I continue to feel gratitude for this amazing platform I have to share. I am also humbled by those who have reached out through social media through the year to either thank me or make suggestions for future submissions.

This year, I think one of the hardest topics I tackled was the perception of babies born with Down syndrome and the efforts made in some countries to eradicate it. It gives me comfort to know how far we, as a nation and culture, are from adopting the same mindset.

If I were asked what I believe to be the single, most significant event to impact people with disabilities in our community, I would have to say it was the funding, construction and opening of the Cole Nellesen Building at Utah Valley University which hosts the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism. It began in May with the official ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening.

Since that opening only seven months ago, they have truly lived up to their mission statement "The Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism at UVU is where the university and the community come together for education and support related to autism spectrum disorder." Additionally, they have provided opportunities along the way for people with all types of developmental disabilities to participate, including the "Super Spectrum Soiree," their first annual art showcase; and provided opportunities for individuals in the spectrum to participate or attend sporting and theater events.

Recently, they successfully teamed with the UVU dental hygiene students to create an opportunity for students to experience working with children in the spectrum, and the children had the chance to learn about dental health in a non-threatening environment. Indications are that it will be repeated.

My examples are only a small handful of the events that took place in this initial year of service. I am confident that 2018 and beyond will bring more exciting possibilities, not only because of the commitment of those at the center, but also the willingness of other local resources to participate. I think that we in Utah Valley can be very proud of the potential, although many of us may never need any of the services they provide.

Thank you to all of the staff, National Advisory Council, Parent Advisory Group and generous donors who have made this come to fruition and will continue to see it flourish. Two dates that anyone from the autism community will want to save are April 13 for the 2018 Autism Conference "Hope & Inclusion Through Best Practices," and, of course, the annual balloon launch and carnival on Saturday, April 21. There will be much more information to come about these events in the coming months.

Until then, I want to wish everyone a very happy New Year!


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