No parent should feel alone: the app connecting special needs families

Sydney mum Stephanie Wicks with daughter Charlotte.
Sydney mum Stephanie Wicks with daughter Charlotte. Photo: Supplied

When Sydney mum Nirvana Diab gave birth to her beautiful baby girl Jasmine, who has Down syndrome, she was full of questions.

"In the early days, when we came home, I sort of felt like I was on a boat in the middle of the ocean and I didn't know how to steer it," Ms Diab said.

"I really felt that sense of just floating in the ocean and just keeping my head above water, but now she's almost five we're on more certain ground, (except) each milestone you sort of fumble around a little bit before you get back on track."

Nirvana Diab and daughter Jasmine.
Nirvana Diab and daughter Jasmine. Photo: Supplied

There's been times she's also felt isolated.

"There's so much more research and investigation and knowledge that you need to have and do for a child that does have special needs," she said.

"You do feel isolated as a parent of a child with special needs. You do feel a bit different."

When she discovered the new Australian-designed app AbleFinder, connecting families with children with disability, it really helped.

"My life was impacted in a really positive way being able to meet and get in contact with other families that had children with special needs because we're all pretty much on the same journey. We were all feeling a sense of isolation," she said.

"We've made some really good friends. Jasmine has a few friends with Down syndrome and it's just great watching them hang out together. 

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"And you're not going to be judged and they're not going to think you're an idiot because they've been there, or they are there, so they're feeling just the same way as you are. You're instantly connected with families in the same position as you." 

Stephanie Wicks, from Sydney, whose daughter Charlotte has Autism, said the app was a really easy way to connect.

"You can actually connect with other people on a virtual level if you're not ready to step outside and show your face and show up as a special needs parent. This is an opportunity for you to connect in a way that works for you at any time of day," Ms Wicks said.

"It makes me feel empowered to help other parents on this journey." 

The app is loaded with a range of information, from nutrition to behavioural issues, which takes the guesswork out of daily life. 

"There's a lot of misinformation out there so to have a resource that sits on your phone that's like a little library that can show you all the relevant information you need…that's kind of invaluable, especially when you're learning," she said.

CEO and co-founder of AbleFinder Summer Petrosius was working as a speech pathologist for children with disabilities and was shocked at the limited contact that her patient's parents had with peers. She saw the enormous impact it had on families. 

"It wasn't unusual for my clients' parents to spend upwards of 10 hours a week Googling answers that only someone in their situation could give them," Mrs Petrosius said.

"Some depended almost entirely on their child's therapy team for emotional support because that was the only time they got to speak one-on-one with someone who understood what was going on at home." 

So, she decided to do something about and has spent the last three years building and refining a new app to connect parents of children with disabilities.

"AbleFinder is the world's first digital social network dedicated to parents of children with disabilities," she said.

"Built to eliminate the isolation and chronic loneliness that three-in-five special-needs parents face, the app helps parents to meet, chat, and learn from like-minded peers on similar journeys.

"Our mission is to ensure that no parent feels alone, information is easily shared, and newly diagnosed families have access to the insight of those who have been there before." 

Free to download, the app, currently sponsored by the Australian Foundation for Disability, is even more vital for connection in this time of coronavirus.

"Online access to peer support and knowledge sharing for parents of children with disabilities couldn't be more important or potentially life-saving than it is now in the COVID19 crisis," she said.

"We've had lots of parents comment on the stress, anxiety, and hopelessness they are experiencing as a result of extended self-isolation, loss of support staff, and availability of life-saving emergency care." 

For more information, visit www.ablefinder.com.au