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 }

In my late 40s, I started two activities that were challenging, terrifying at times and oddly gave me the confidence to start a venture to help individuals with autism.

Five A.M. Torture

One morning about five years ago while I was doing my regular work out, I walked past a room filled with stationary bikes and lots of huffing, puffing, and sweating. I asked the next day about the class and learned it was “spinning.” I was bored with my regular work out and was experiencing tennis elbow from the elliptical, so I signed up for the next morning class. How would I describe spinning? It is pure torture on a stationary bike at an hour of day that only true work-out masochists can endure. During my first class, my heart was beating so fast, that when I got off the bike, I thought I might faint. I have since seen an athletic, 16-year-old boy leave the room and toss his cookies, and many others not make it through the class. I thought I would be the oldest in the room and many times I am, but now I wear that as a badge of honor! I may be twice their age, but I can keep up with the best of them most mornings. I would love to say, I lost lots of weight, but the truth is, I have only toned up. My loving husband says, “Imagine what you would look like not doing this?” Oh the support!

I still spin three days a week and am thinking about becoming an instructor when my daughter leaves for college in two years; I will need the extra cash. My mornings in the spin seat, gives me 100% “me time,” and I will think of anything possible to keep my mind off the torture. I plan my day, and I try to come up with creative solutions for work or personal problems. I find this to be my most creative time of the day.  I use memory techniques I learned in Dale Carnegie to remember the ideas I dream up in the saddle.

Seven P.M. Torture

The second activity that was equally as scary was taking my first improv class. It was January a few years back and the prospect of a long cold winter when it gets dark at 6 p.m., made me look for something creative to look forward to. I received a flyer from our local playhouse with a section on educational opportunities for improv classes. I had seen improv before when a close friend’s husband was in an improv troop many years ago. My girlfriend needed someone to go with her, and so I went to many of his performances. I was always intrigued by how quickly they could make up stuff out of thin air and how funny it was. The flyer said no experience was necessary so I thought why not give it a try. Again I thought I would be the oldest one there. To my delight, the first night, I found that improv was an accepting environment to try things, be a little crazy and think on your feet. It was like no other experience I have ever had. 

I had been in sales for 25+ years, and so I thought, I spend most days in an improvisational situations, but this improv class was a whole new experience.  The first concept we learned was “yes and… .” This is a concept where you or your improv partner set a scene, and no matter what they say, you say “yes, and” and add to the scene. For instance, if they state that you are on a train to Chicago, you add “yes, and .. we are going to funeral" or, a ballgame, or, a movie, or, a cow show and or anything else that may pop up in your head in that moment. You have to think, reply, avoid judgment and move the scene along. The instructor was an improv performer at Disney for 15 years. He was amazing and made the class the most fun I had had in while. My cheeks hurt from laughing at the end of each class.

I continued my improv classes for a few years. The next instructor was from Second City, the acclaimed improv organization from Chicago. I learned more, it revved up my creativity, and I was applying the “yes and” to other endeavors at work and at home.

Spinning and improv could not be more different, but I believe both helped me on my road to developing an app for individuals with autism. I had time to think during my spinning classes, and I had no time to think in improv, but the creativity and the time to develop that while sweating and huffing and puffing, helped me create an app called “Training Faces.”

Sweat, Creativity and Autism

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