Neighbors

Michael McWatters Creates New Questioning Autism? App

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Neighbor Michael McWatters is the man behind ASD Dad, a blog about being the father of a boy with autism. ASD Dad is an exceptionally well made blog on all fronts, from writing to photography to insight and education. Michael’s popularity — he’s written several popular pieces for the Huffington Post — is perfectly justified.

“Having a child with autism — or any serious developmental issue — can be a frightening, isolating experience,” writes Michael. “Hearing or reading the stories of others has been a source of insight and reassurance for me. By writing this blog, I hope to do the same for others.”

In conjunction with Netsoft-USA and ActiveHealth, Michael recently designed and released Questioning Autism?,  an iPhone app meant to help parents understand the signs and symptoms of autism.

Questioning Autism is concise and clear, exactly what concerned new parents need. It asks 12 simple questions of parents and allows parents to add notes and share their observations. In return, it helps illuminate the signs of autism with a wealth of information.

Michael recently took a few minutes to answer our questions about the app, how it came to be and who will benefit most from it.

Who should download this app?

Michael: “Questioning Autism?” is designed primarily for parents who have concerns that their child or children might be showing signs of autism. The app may also be helpful for anyone personally or professionally curious about the topic, including teachers, family members, or other caregivers.

One clinician noted that the app could help pediatricians and nurses in other countries who may not be familiar with the symptoms of autism. My hope is that someday “Questioning Autism?” will be available on a wider variety of platforms, and in multiple languages.

Tell us about the creation of the app. From a technical side, who coded the 0s and 1s? From the other side, how was the questionnaire put together?

I designed the app, and it was programmed by the team at Netsoft-USA where I work as UX Director. The app was created in partnership with one of Netsoft’s long-standing clients, ActiveHealth Management, who provided clinical and marketing support. Both companies took the project on as a way to give back to the community.

The questions are derived from fairly standard criteria for autism, but great care was taken to try to make the content as approachable and conversational as possible.

You’re well known for the ASD Dad blog. What moved you toward making an app?

We had great difficulties explaining our concerns to our pediatrician, who insisted that we were being overly cautious, and that the issues we brought up were related to our son’s other underlying health issues. We lacked the insights and vocabulary to adequately convey our concerns, and of course we didn’t really want to accept what was happening either. Finally, after the signs became unavoidably obvious, we sought a second opinion, and then a formal evaluation that confirmed our suspicions: our son had autism.

A few months later, it dawned on me that I could use my skills as a user experience professional to help other parents avoid the delays we experienced, delays that reduced the amount of help our son would ultimately receive. When we had our evaluation, we brought in printed notes, something the evaluator said was incredibly helpful; that’s why Questioning Autism? allows parents to add notes to each of their answers, and to share their observations via email with trusted resources.

In other words, I wanted to create the kind of tool that would have helped us during that difficult time of discovery.

What has the reaction been from parents? It may be too soon but have you heard stories about the app helping parents in specific situations yet?

So far, response has been very positive. During the process of designing the app, we ran it by clinicians and parents to gather feedback, a process that not only confirmed the app’s worth, but also provided invaluable insights into how to make it better. Since the app became available publicly, it has received excellent ratings in the iTunes App Store. I’ve even received some emails from parents of children on the spectrum saying, basically, “I wish I had this app when we first started to suspect something was amiss.”

You say you write your blog to give insight and reassurance to other parents in similar situations. How has writing the blog and releasing this app helped you?

These things have given me a chance to turn something difficult into something positive. I’m taking things I love to do — writing and design — and applying them to something that has given a new, deeper meaning to my life: my son’s autism. I’ve learned so much from other parent bloggers, and I’m grateful to be able to give something back. The app is the first of many, I hope, and it’s given me a concrete way to use my skills to help others.

You can view the app in the iTunes store here and read Michael’s blog here.

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