New program is helping children with autism in Utah County

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children in the U.S. has increased in the past decade. In Utah, the number of children diagnosed with autism is even higher than the national average. A staggering 1 in 54 Utah children are diagnosed and the need for autism services has never been more critical. These kids desperately need intense therapy at a very early age.

Tiffany Millar, Registered Behavior Technician with Kids Who Count, works on new vocabulary with Brookson Measom in the Kids Who Count playground.

That’s why, Kids Who Count, a non-profit organization serving families and children in South Utah County, decided to expand their services to include comprehensive autism treatment along with their early intervention services for children, birth to three years of age.

“Since 1986, our early intervention program has helped thousands of young children with developmental delays and disabilities,” Kelsey Lewis, Kids Who Count Executive Director, said. “Now we’re ready to expand those services to include treatment for children on the autism spectrum.”

Kids Who Count, located in Salem, Utah, would like to help more kids like Miles Jones who at 18 months wasn’t talking at all. He was missing most of his developmental milestones and his family was getting frantic. Fortunately, Miles was receiving early intervention at Kids Who Count and the timing couldn’t have been better. His early intervention providers referred him for further evaluation and he was diagnosed and able to get help quickly when his family became one of the first to start Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through the brand new program: Autism Services at Kids Who Count.

“Miles is responding so well to ABA therapy and continues to make such rapid progress,” Miles’ mother, Kohleen Jones, said. “We are so grateful that Kids Who Count was able to expand their services and start providing ABA therapy. There is such a great need in our community!”

The need for autism treatment services is outpacing the number of providers in South Utah County, Lewis said. “It’s concerning to know young children are not getting the ABA therapy they so desperately need.”

ABA therapy helps young children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder increase their communication skills and decrease behaviors that are not beneficial to their life. It focuses on the fact that not being able to communicate is frustrating and kids will act out as a result. Hundreds of studies have shown that ABA therapy is also the best treatment to improve social skills, develop play skills, and teach self-care for children with autism.

“Researchers have compared ABA to other programs and their results consistently show that children who receive ABA treatment make greater improvements in more skill areas than children who participate in other interventions,” Lewis said. “And, it’s also shown to significantly reduce the daily stress for parents of kids with autism.”

Sara Madsen, Board Certified Behavior Analyst with Kids Who Count, works with Calvin Hansen to develop hand and eye coordination at their facility in Salem.

“Early Intervention has been absolutely key for Miles and our family,” Jones said. “Miles started signing words and then moved on to speaking and is now able to form three- to four-word sentences. Miles has improved in how he interacts with his peers, and we learned skills on how to help Miles transition more smoothly from one activity to another. We even got help with teaching

Kids Who Count now has a staff of highly trained behavior analysts and technicians who are experts in this subject and certified in providing ABA treatment, Lewis said. “They know what works and what doesn’t, and they are achieving pronounced results already.”

Those results are being deeply felt by Miles and his family. “We are very optimistic that our whole family has a happy and bright future ahead of us,” Jones said.

To contact Kids Who Count about autism services, visit their website at, or call them at (801) 423-3000. Read Serve Daily Article 

Holly BushnellNew program is helping children with autism in Utah County
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Junior high students focus on children’s special needs

When seventh-grade students, Stefan Omelchuk and Christopher Bruder, were trying to decide what they would do for their required service project, they knew it had to involve two things: their love for the game of hockey and helping kids with disabilities.

Stefan and Christopher attend St. John the Baptist Middle School, also known as Juan Diego Catholic High School, which requires that all students complete a “Catholic Connection” service project to further their understanding of the Catholic belief in service to others.

It was their love of the game of hockey and their connections with the Utah Grizzlies that led to them organizing a fundraising event to benefit Kids Who Count, a nonprofit early intervention program in Nebo School District that serves the special health care needs of children in Utah County.

When explaining why they chose Kids Who Count as the benefactor of the event, Omelchuk said, “Me and my teammates are pretty lucky to get to play hockey. Some kids need help just to walk or talk. We wanted to help them.”

The fundraising event will take place on Feb. 27 at the Maverik Center, where the Utah Grizzlies will take on the Maine Mariners. Discounted tickets to benefit Kids Who Count can be purchased by contacting them at (801) 423-3000. Additionally, volunteers will be selling foam pucks to chuck on the ice for a chance to win $100. Proceeds from these sales will go directly to Kids Who Count.

We most often hear stories about high school, college or professional athletes when they are negative. It is refreshing to know that many of our youth at many of our schools are encouraged to give back to their communities instead of just playing a sport. Whether the requirement comes from the school or from a coach who knows that the value of an athlete goes beyond what they can do on the field or the court, we need to encourage more schools and coaches to follow this lead.

I would also like to remind everyone about Utah Valley University men’s basketball “Night for Autism” at 7 p.m. on Feb. 23. Tickets are free and special accommodations are available for individuals with disabilities. Go to, create an account and enter autism19 for your free tickets.

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Holly BushnellJunior high students focus on children’s special needs
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Honoring a Terrific Kids Who Count Employee-Peggie Lara

There are a number of ways that people choose their profession or vocation.

There are those who decide at a young age what they want to be, pursue it and do it until they retire.

Others may make the same choices and have the same pursuit and later realize it wasn’t what they wanted and do something else. Then, there is the group that really didn’t have a set course and are lucky enough to stumble into the perfect job with the perfect employer at the perfect time.

I think that is likely the case with Peggie Lara.

I do not know for sure if 27 years ago, Peggie joined the Kids Who Count team, an early intervention program in Nebo School District, purposefully or if she stumbled on to it by answering an ad. Regardless of what took her there, she has spent the last 27 years of her life making it purposeful.

When she joined Kids Who Count, the field of developmental disabilities had a lot fewer opportunities for employment, but Peggie stepped in and quickly found her place. She started by providing direct services to the Spanish-speaking families and conducting intake visits in their homes. She worked in other capacities and has been credited with contributing greatly to the success of the early intervention program. She understands the concerns of parents of children with disabilities and was able to communicate with them warmth, compassion and expediently scheduling initial evaluations.

Peggie worked with Latino and Hispanic families by creating meaningful connections with the community and ensured inclusion. She also expanded cultural awareness within the Kids Who Count team. Peggie has agreed to continue to facilitate the “Learning with Books and Play” class for Spanish-speaking families.

“Learning with Books and Play” is one of many programs offered through Kids Who Count and is co-sponsored through United Way. This is a fun and interactive class for Spanish-speaking children and families in the community. The class will meet on the fourth Wednesday of each month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Kids Who Count building in Salem. The children will learn how to combine literacy and hands-on play to support learning and how to build in the four areas of child development: cognitive, physical, language and social-emotional. Information can be found at

It is unique for employees to commit to a job and stay for so many years,’ said Kelsey Lewis, executive director of Kids Who Count. “The longevity and dedication of employees like Peggie, make Kids Who Count more than a team. We’re a family and it’s hard to imagine this family without Peggie.”

Melanie Linford, associate director of Kids Who Count, added, “Peggie is an intelligent, kind and happy person. Thank you for the many years of hard work and dedication.”

By today’s standards, twenty-seven years is a long time to stay in one job with one company. Peggie’s longevity in this field and with Kids Who Count is a testimony to the value of serving others. She is a reminder of one of my favorite quotes by St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Peggie, you undoubtedly did great things for many people with great love. Enjoy your retirement.

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Holly BushnellHonoring a Terrific Kids Who Count Employee-Peggie Lara
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Utah Nonprofits Hoping for Help on #GivingTuesday

Utah nonprofits hoping for help on #GivingTuesday

After a weekend of getting and gifting, Tuesday marks a bit of a kick-off for the giving side of the holiday season.

Giving Tuesday is a national movement that promotes donating to local and national charities. Also known as #GivingTuesday, the day started in 2012 as a way to encourage people to get involved in their local communities and donate time, money or resources.

For the small team behind Kids Who Count, a Salem nonprofit, this is their first year participating in #GivingTuesday. Kids Who Count serves children in the Nebo School District area with early intervention programs for those with developmental disabilities. The organization is new to fundraising, as it has held a federal early intervention grant since 1986, which helps provide the needed services. Because of Utah’s growth in the last few years, though, the organization needs additional funds, says Kelsey Lewis, executive director of Kids Who Count.

“The number of children needing services exceeds our capacity. In the past five years we’ve seen a 40 percent increase in the number of children we’re serving,” she said in a phone interview last week, explaining that the resources from the grant have remained fairly static during that same timeframe. “We’re looking for ways to scale up our program to better match the needs of our community.”

Lewis said they are hoping to raise funds to expand their autism program, offering more therapy for longer periods of time. They have also outgrown their building at 345 N. State Road 198 in Salem, and hope to remodel and expand it.

Lewis said Friday early donations to the Kids Who Count campaign had already hit about $1,000. She is hoping to reach $5,000 by Tuesday.

“But it doesn’t have to happen all on Giving Tuesday. If we can create some awareness in the community with this, that would be good. We need community support for our programs to continue to make it happen,” she said. “It will be fun to see how this first campaign goes.”


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Holly BushnellUtah Nonprofits Hoping for Help on #GivingTuesday
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Utah Jazz arena adds ‘sensory room’

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert joins children and their families in the new Sensory Room designed and built by Vivint Smart Home and the Utah Jazz

Vivint Smart Home Arena can explode with noise when Rudy Gobert slams home a thunderous dunk or when Donovan Mitchell drills a 3-pointer from just short of midcourt.

Those decibel levels can be pretty overwhelming for children who have autism or other neurodiverse conditions. So the arena sponsor’s philanthropic arm, Vivint Gives Back, installed a “sensory room,” where kids and individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities can go to cool off.

“This space is about kids and families,” said Nate Randle, Vivint Smart Home’s chief marketing officer. “To know there’s a spot where it’s quiet, and that Mom or Dad could bring a kid here for 15 to 20 minutes to settle down without having the leave the game, people are excited about that.”



Holly BushnellUtah Jazz arena adds ‘sensory room’
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We are so fortunate to work with wonderful children and families. We want to celebrate with all of you. If you are currently receiving services from Kids Who Count, please join us for our annual family picnic at Salem Pond on Monday, August 28th from 6:00 to 7:30 pm. Dinner will be served so you must RSVP. PLEASE CALL 801.423.3000 TO RSVP BY 8/18!

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Their Voice: Kids Who Count celebrates 30 years of early intervention

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Last week I received an invitation in the mail to attend the Kids Who Count 30th anniversary celebration Tuesday evening. I have written several times about Kids Who Count, an early intervention program funded by the Health Department and serving the Nebo School District area. Early intervention provides a multitude of services for newborn children through age 3 and their families.

Last week I received an invitation in the mail to attend the Kids Who Count 30th anniversary celebration Tuesday evening. I have written several times about Kids Who Count, an early intervention program funded by the Health Department and serving the Nebo School District area. Early intervention provides a multitude of services for newborn children through age 3 and their families.

As I was driving to the open house I couldn’t help but think that 30 years ago when the Americans with Disabilities Act was still a concept, Susie Parrett was in Salem, Utah, just looking for a way to help her two children who had both experienced a head injury.

“I had no intention to start anything,” reflects Parrett. “I just wanted to get some help for my kids.”

Instead, with prompting from the Health Department, Susie started Kids Who Count in the basement of the San Andres Catholic Church in Payson. The six children who started 30 years ago have now turned into 270 who are currently being served.

“We know there are a lot more who need our services,” says Kelsey Lewis, executive director of Kids Who Count. “We really wish we could reach out to all of them.”

The celebration consisted of bouncy houses, games, pizza, snow cones, popcorn and a lot of great conversation and recollection of wonderful memories. Many of the children in attendance are still in the program, and many more have completed early intervention and progressed to the Special Ed Program through Nebo School District. Some of the children are now adults.

One particular mother who made sure she attended was Cheltsy Moore. Cheltsy’s son, Brody, entered the Kids Who Count program in 2011. Brody was born 10 weeks early and was at Primary Children’s Hospital until October that year. When it was time for Brody to go home, a coordinator from Primary Children’s Hospital set up a conference call with his parents and Mary Walker, a nurse at Kids Who Count.

“When it was finally time to take Brody home, we were both excited and nervous. We had been warned so much about germs and taking him out that we weren’t really sure what to do. He was still connected to a lot of tubes,” Moore recalls.

Luckily for the Moores, nurses from Kids Who Count started coming in to check on him right away. “Brody wasn’t even able to turn his head when he came home,” Moore recalls. “Mary and other therapists were able to teach him to turn his head, sit up and eventually walk in his walker.”

Services through Kids Who Count included physical therapy, swimming (which Brody really loved), speech therapy and weight checks, while they were working with his physicians to get him to eat. Since the Moores’ insurance could only pay for 20 services a year, Kids Who Count was able to bridge the gap and give him the services that he needed.

Additionally, the therapists were able to work with the family and teach them the things they need to know to continue the sessions daily.  It was refreshing for Brody’s parents to work with individuals who were able to fully understand his diagnosis and knew exactly what they were talking about.

Brody finished the Kids Who Count program when he turned three and advanced to the Special Education program. However, for the Moores and other families involved in early intervention, the relationships did not stop.

“The staff at Kids Who Count become like family,” says Moore. “Since they come to your house instead of making you go to them, they get to know everyone. My other children also looked forward to the visits from the therapists and staff.”

Cheltsy might not have realized how close the people from Kids Who Count really were to her family until a year ago, when Brody unexpectedly passed away from complications of his condition.

“They all come to the funeral to show their support and I understood that my loss was also their loss,” Moore says. “Sometimes we will go to the cemetery and find little notes from them on his headstone.”

I imagine that attending the anniversary celebration this week was not easy for Cheltsy, but she went anyway to show her support and appreciation for the program and staff whom she still sees as part of her family.

So it is on behalf of Cheltsy, Brody, and the hundreds of other families who are connected to this program that I congratulate the Kids Who Count program on all of their successes. From Susie Parrett to the current organization, I hope that you are always able to continue the support that you provide for our small community.

Holly BushnellTheir Voice: Kids Who Count celebrates 30 years of early intervention
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Their Voice: Understanding early intervention programs in Utah Valley


Brenda Winegar and Karen Hahne probably didn’t set out to change the world, but in 1983, they did just that. Each a mother of a young child with a developmental disability, they were looking for resources that would help them create an environment to help their children be successful.

What resulted was far beyond what either expected — the creation of “Kids on the Move Early Intervention.”

Winegar recalled, “It was about potential, determination, experience and the willpower to build something that seemed impossible. It was also about heavenly help when we became discouraged.”

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