Five years ago, Topher Wurts and his wife were attending a school district meeting. The meeting was to help parents transition their autistic children from preschool to kindergarten. Wurts and his wife were there with their son, Kirby.
“We looked around the room and thought, ‘Holy cow, look at this, this room is full of single moms with autistic kids at their feet,’” Wurts said. “I realized at that point, based on the lottery of who you were born to, some of these kids were going to get the support they needed and some weren’t.”
Wurts began digging for solutions to the biggest challenge these parents were facing: what he calls, “practical day-to-day challenges of navigating people, places and things,” such as keeping track of medicines and managing legal advisers, caregiving teams, pediatricians (regular and developmental), psychiatrists, specialized therapists — the list goes on.
“These people all come from different organizations and none of them talk to each other,” Wurts sad. “If we can help [parents] with the practical day-to-day stuff, life would get a whole lot better.”
Enter Autism Village: a community, an app and Wurts’ solution for easing the everyday stresses that inevitably come with caring for an autistic child.
The app relies on users to rate, review and comment on people, places, and things that provide autism-friendly services, such as parks, dentists, barbers, businesses, schools and restaurants. Wurts says it’s like a Yelp! or Trip Advisor for the autism community, and there’s no product on the market quite like it.
“Lots of people have started with the idea online — web-based directories that are either very localized or quite incomplete,” Wurts said. “Even the services directory at Autism Speaks is kind of weak in many respects.”
Autism Village bridges the gap between national organizations, like Autism Speaks, and what Wurts calls “two-mom organizations,” small nonprofits started by concerned parents in the community. “They try to do good stuff but they tend to be overtaxed and super local,” Wurts said.
Larger organizations, on the other hand, can largely be awareness and advocacy vehicles, funding machines that focus on the core mission of finding a cure. Wurts said that can be a problem.
“Some of the higher-functioning autistic people, they don’t want you to cure them,” he said. “They don’t think of themselves as being sick or needing to be cured. They need to be accepted.”
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That’s where Autism Village comes in. Rating and reviewing services is far from the only feature the app offers. Wurts is also developing a training program to help listed businesses better understand some of the challenges that come with servicing autistic clientele. The training will give businesses a hand with serving the autism community.
Team management is another feature currently in beta. Wurts said this is one of the most crucial pieces of the puzzle. The app will coordinate efforts between parents, educators, doctors, specialists to provide more efficient caregiving.
For now, the app’s backend is built and ready for front end development. That’s where the Autism Village Kickstarter comes into play. The campaign had an initial goal of $38,500 and, so far, has far surpassed that amount.
“We hit the initial goal for the initial app in 11 days,” Wurts said. “Now we’re plugging along, working on raising the money to do Android and iPads, then Android tablets.”
Wurts said the app will be full released on a global scale by summer.
Images via Autism Village