Making Friends is Difficult for Individuals with Special Needs; We Have the Solution
September 26, 2019
My brother Michael just turned 21. He has autism and ADHD. As he gets older, the need for him to have friends and “normal” social interactions grows. I have known this to be one of his largest challenges for years, which is why two years ago I started this initiative. I created an interactive web application that enables children (ages 13+) and adults with special needs make friends. It is called Making Authentic Friendships, MAF for short, which are also my brother’s initials. This serves individuals with any intellectual or physical disability. It matches them based on age, diagnosis, interests and geographic location. It is very user friendly, with big buttons, lots of colors and all drop down menus. We want it to be accessible to users of an array of ability levels.
Making Authentic Friendships works like a game, and upon signing up, you create an avatar of yourself, and see your “friend matches” on a map. You can then click around and learn what criteria you have matched on. If you decide you want to chat someone, there are also conversation prompts connected to the messenger. It is clear that this is often one of the biggest barriers for making friends, being unable to make and keep conversation or lacking social skills. There are general conversations prompts, such as “how was your day?” and specific to your interests conversation prompts. For instance, if the criteria you watched on is that you both like sports, then the conversation prompts will be relevant to that (in real time). These would include things like “who is your favorite team/player” and in real time, it will know about big games coming up (i.e. playoffs, World Series, super bowl, etc.) We want the app to be able to be used as a tool to help these individuals build social skills that can translate into life skills. Adding to the game aspect, you can also earn “coins” for doing certain things such as, signing in consecutive days, making friend matches and using our “suggested meetup spots”. The coins can be used to “purchase” exclusive clothing/props for your avatar. They can also be used to unlock cool features such as audio and video chat abilities.
We launched our interactive web application, free of charge, (a website that works like an app; http://www.makingauthenticfriendships.com/) three weeks ago and have just over 200 users. It is the beta launch which means we are still working through some kinks, but we are eager to get it out to you to try for yourself or your loved one! As the beta, we haven’t launched all features just yet. It is clear that sometimes it may need to be used by a family member or caregiver on an individual’s behalf, which is asked during the signup process. Additionally, we have some serious terms and conditions in place to ensure our users are who they say they are. You have to agree to the terms and conditions before making a profile. We also provide safety tips, “do’s and don’ts”. Additionally, we have certain words/phrases banned from being said on the app and any inappropriate language/behaviors can and should be reported to administration promptly.