OREM — Utah Valley University announced plans Monday to construct a privately funded facility dedicated to autism on its campus.

"We have an autism initiative — we are the only university with an autism minor," said UVU spokeswoman Melinda Colton. "There seems to be such a community need, especially in Utah, and we need to help our professionals so they can be prepared in their jobs."

The unique building and corresponding programs will serve community members, working professionals, future educators and those on the autism spectrum, pending building and program approval from the Utah Higher Education System's Board of Regents and the State Building Board, according to the university.

"One of the things that just came in over and over again was autism," said UVU President Matthew S. Holland of Utah's community and education needs. "We wouldn't be the institution that finds everything genetically about it, but we will become a national leader in how to respond to autism."

The building is currently designed to be 10,000 square feet and will include therapy rooms and sensory rooms on the first floor, a multipurpose room adaptable to different program needs on the second floor, and outdoor sensory features — such as playgrounds and landscaping.

Programs held in the building will provide counseling, diagnostics, social skills groups and family support to those impacted by autism as part of UVU's goal of creating engaged learning based on the community's needs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that 1 in 54 children are identified with autism in Utah. The state currently does not have the highest rate of autism, but has in prior years.

The facility will be constructed near the School of Education, and will feature classrooms for support and teaching strategies to school professionals who instruct children who have an autism spectrum disorder from pre-K to third grade — this program will also have a virtual classroom that teaches similar strategies.

"The new facility will be able to provide state-of-the-art options for students who are pursuing their degrees to help autistic individuals," said Teresa Cardon, director of the Autism Studies program at UVU.

These degrees vary from construction management, business and exercise science. Students who complete the class sequence of the minor and pass a national exam also have the ability to become certified assistant behavior analysts.

Companies and organizations who have donated to the building so far include: J. Brent and Kathryn Wood, founders of Clear Horizons Academy; dōTERRA; CEO Todd Pedersen and Andrea Pederson, Vivint; Casey Baugh, Vivint vice president of sales; and John R. Pestana, co-founder of Omniture.

"We've raised over $3 million so far, and we need to raise a couple more. It appears that people are really getting behind this and the community is stepping behind this project with enthusiasm," Holland said.

Contributions to the facility and program are still being accepted — including naming opportunities. Potential donors may visit supportuvu.org/autism or call Nancy Smith at 801-863-8896 for more information.

Email: chansen@deseretnews.com