How I Developed an App for Autism

Spinning and improv helped me on my road to developing an app for individuals with autism.

by Therese Wantuch • Member { View Profile }

I was at an autism fund-raising event, where I met the grandfather of a boy with autism. He asked me, “Does this get any easier?” I said, “If our son was diagnosed today, the first thing I would do is buy him a tablet.” This statement haunted me for a few weeks. I would think about apps while I was spinning and wonder what could hold our son Jack’s attention and what might help him and others with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Soon after, one morning, I woke up and told my husband, “I have it.” And “Training Faces” was born. I planned it out during spin class, and the “yes and” statement helped me to not judge on how and what the app should look like and do.

I know a lot about autism first hand; our son Jack was diagnosed with autism when he was approximately two years old. He was diagnosed as moderate to severely autistic. He is now a 21-year-old former college student who played in the university orchestra, performed at Carnegie Hall with his high-school orchestra, drives a car, and with his sister, Francesca, arranged the music for our app “Training Faces.” I contracted with an app developer, and they were able to translate my ideas into an app that helps individuals with autism recognize emotions, the reason behind the emotions and increase the speed of recognition. 

Our son and many others who we know with ASD love trains, so I thought that vehicle would get them into the game. “Training Faces” uses nine emotions; to advance in the game you travel nine train routes around the world. Our whole goal is to help others afflicted with ASD and other special needs, to get just a little better at recognizing emotions so their social skills can be improved and thus their social life improved as well. I have heard from other folks who have bought the app and said their “typical” children love the app as well.

Since our son was diagnosed, we have been involved with autism charities and helped other families maneuver through the diagnosis — from therapeutic horseback riding to social-skills groups. It made sense for us to give back, and we plan to give a portion of each download to Autism Charities.  We launched the app on May 1, 2012 on the App Store and we went live on Google Play with the Android version July 21st

Our Spanish version will launch by late August on both the App Store and Google Play.

I would love to say this is my new career, but I am still in my long time insurance career, and we are getting downloads each day. We have plans for more apps and are looking for an app developer partner. 

Spinning, improv, autism apps, and insurance sales have made my early 50’s even more rewarding. Who says you have to slow down when the first half of your life is in the rearview mirror.

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