Special Education, 2005
autism specialist, Easter Seals Goodwill
Kelly Melius doesn’t get angry very easily. Growing up, however, one thing never failed to get under her skin: Seeing schoolmates pick on kids with disabilities.
“To see people with disabilities get teased, it didn’t really make sense to me,” she said. “I always just liked these people. They’re human beings like everybody else.”
Melius took an interest in special-needs students at an early age.
“Even when I was in junior high I went to the special education room and worked with the kids there, and I kept doing it in high school,” she said.
Melius moved from Minnesota to Montana after high school so that she could pursue her passion for snowboarding. “It was the closest place that had mountains,” she said.
She worked in a group home for special-needs kids during college.
“After graduation, I continued to work there. But then I got a job doing early intervention services for kids that were showing any developmental delay.”
Six years ago, she started working at Easter Seals Goodwill, where she is an autism specialist.
The job comes with many rewards.
“I just love and believe in these kids. I believe they deserve every chance in life that everybody else has, and they deserve to live in a community that supports them and is inclusive.”
And the best part of her job is seeing students and their families make progress.
“It’s not just the child who has autism. It’s the family,” she said. “When you first get that diagnosis it can be sad. But you see families work through that and come out on the other side in a place of just pure acceptance.”
Describe how you got where you are in your work today: I have a soft spot in my heart for people with special needs. I spent my college years as a support aid to children and adults with autism residing in group homes and went on to become a certified family support specialist providing early intervention services to families and their children age 0-3. I provide PLAY Project developmental intervention for children age 14 months to 6 years. I organize and facilitate all of the Easter Seals Goodwill social skills classes held quarterly, plan and assist in summer camps and run our Sibling Support Group (a workshop for children who have brothers and sisters with special needs) for children age 8-12.
What is the biggest challenge in your job? The rate at which the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is being given is astounding. What keeps me up at night is knowing that not all of these children are receiving intervention that is tailored to their individual needs and characteristics. I believe it takes a “whole community” to ensure that the children and families affected by autism get the support they need; we have to work together to raise awareness so these individuals can live in a community that supports them to feel safe, accepted, and competent.
What’s the best business advice you have received? When I got my current position with ESGW I got a call from a former colleague congratulating me. I remember thanking her but also telling her how scared and nervous I was to fill the shoes of my predecessor/mentor. I was terrified and worried knowing that the need for support in our community was great. My colleague’s response to me was perfect. She said, “Kelly, you will wear your own shoes.” Best. Advice. Ever!
Who gave you that advice? Susan Betz from STEP Inc.
Here’s what I’d like to do to improve my community: My dream would be to live in a community where all individuals with special needs, especially those with autism characteristics are accepted for who they are.
Aside from profit and loss, how do you measure success in your job? I believe individuals on the spectrum have a different neurological makeup than ours. It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s not less, it’s just different. Because of that difference, their brain makes it difficult for them to do certain things that come naturally to others. Nothing brings me more satisfaction and joy than to watch the magic of a relationship unfold between a parent and their child. This is success beyond measure.
Which living person do you most admire? There are three people: Audrey Pierce-Seeley. My sister has overcome such adversity in her life, and my mother. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for her.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? My work… supporting families … impacting lives; and my small but amazing family.
I’m happiest when I’m… snowboarding with my 8-year-old daughter.
Article credit: Billings Gazette
Photo credit: James Woodcock, Billings Gazette