When a child is diagnosed with the autism spectrum disorder (autism, or ASD), it’s not just the child affected by the disorder. Everyone in the family is affected, as are the grandparents and other members of the extended family. Parents often rely on professional caregivers, education providers, and other support services collectively referred to as the autism community.
One father of an autistic child knows how valuable the community is. He’s expanding the communal value in a free ratings-style app he calls “Autism Village.”
Topher Wurts, 48, is the proud father of Kirby, 13. The two guys like to get out and explore the area around their Pennsylvania home but Topher has learned from experience that not every venue or destination is a good match when one’s traveling companion has ASD.
The very complex nature of autism makes finding ideal spots for outings different with every child. Some autistic children require special diets that limit their dining options. Others are highly sensitive to the signs, sounds, and even aromas of other kinds of destinations. Too much motion can be too much for some people with ASD.
Kirby, for example, is not comfortable in places where the noise level is high and the lights are bright. The Wurts have learned to frequent more soothing environments so Kirby doesn’t suffer distressing sensory overloads.
Another element of traveling or even sightseeing in one’s hometown that can dampen the day for a family with an autistic child is public perception. Some people working in restaurants, museums, play centers, and other venues understand the autistic child’s special needs and they are kind and accommodating. Other businesses are staffed by people less forgiving. Other patrons can be not so forgiving, too.
As Kirby has gone from child to teenager, his interests have changed and new places that appeal to kids open up all the time. The Wurts hesitate to explore some of these unknown new options for fear of frightening Kirby but feedback from other members of their local autism community has proven to be a big help over the years.
Viewing the world through Kirby’s eyes opened the entrepreneurial eyes of Topher, who envisioned a smartphone app that parents of autistic children can use to share their experiences with other parents and with autistic adults. He named this app “Autism Village.” It is near the finishing stages of development and is expected to be on the market by mid-summer 2015.
With “Autism Village,” parents can let other parents know which places are accommodating of their children, which are best avoided, and what it is, exactly, that makes one place more autism-friendly than others. This app is expected to be an invaluable tool for families traveling to cities and even foreign countries they’ve never been to before. Kind of like a Yelp or Angie’s List for autism-friendly places.
“Families and autistic adults — especially when away from home or when looking for new ideas — will benefit from being able to discover places that are highly rated and reviewed by other autism families,” says Topher. He hopes the app will “dramatically improve the day to day for autism families and, hopefully, give them more time and better tools to help their kids.”
A Kickstarter project, which ended April 20, accepted pledges for the final leg of the iOS app’s development. A social media campaign called #Tag10forAutism is helping to spread the word. The app development team has plans to expand the app’s technology to include versions for iPad and Android phones and Tablets, thanks to the Kickstarter campaign.
- Autism Village. Autism Village LLC, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.
- Wurts, Topher. "Autism Village | Easily Find Autism Friendly Places." Kickstarter. Kickstarter, Inc., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.