Parenting certainly isn’t easy—but it’s even more complex when you have a child with special needs. Pei Pan Morrone should know: The Simmons alum, who has worked for Liberty Mutual, Partners Healthcare and Monster Worldwide, saw her whole life change dramatically when her son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS—one of the three autism spectrum disorders—in 2008.
As Morrone sought people with experience in PDD-NOS, it became increasingly clear just how difficult it was to find specialists to offer advice on daunting decisions relating to this condition and meet her son’s needs. And as she spoke to other families dealing with similar circumstances, she observed that they, too, suffered from a lack of information and resources. By April 2013, Morrone had quit her corporate job and drawn up the outline for an online resource called Autism Care. The database was designed to give parents easy access to critical information on the special needs experience and credentials of practitioners and schools, including doctors, therapists and caregivers. Through the Autism Care site, parents can build their own care team and a customized care plan based the specific needs of their children, as well as send and receive messages with specialists. And for providers, the site serves as a platform for promoting their services to the families who need them most—which obviously can have a lot of business value as well.
Autism Care, which is based out of Newton, just launched last week with a medical advisory board that includes individuals from the Autism Research Foundation, the Integrated Center for Child Development, Applied Behavioral Learning Services and Time BioScience.
The first phase of this launch is the Massachusetts database, which contains 68,000 specialist doctors and therapists that the company is cross-profiling and checking in terms of their autism-specific expertise. Autism Care is capable of scaling to be a national platform, but for now, is starting as a local database. The company is currently in the recruitment phase for Massachusetts caregivers.
“One area that we see a definite need and want to open the dialogue is between schools and service providers, so schools can have access to additional special needs teachers and teacher assistants,” said Morrone. “Longer-term we have plans to expand to other special needs diagnoses—for example, many parents with ADHD children have approached us to ask for help.”
Currently, Autism Care has four employees. Rick King, a Harvard Business School alum, has been appointed CMO. King’s experience includes senior marketing positions at Audible (now owned by Amazon), GateHouse Media and Showtime, where he was head of National Direct Marketing. Autism Care has also brought on Martin Wang—previously a professor at Utah State University and software/Web services developer for EMC, Natixis Global and UMass Medical School—as CTO. Morrone told BostInno that Autism Care has plans to build out the team further in the fourth quarter.
The company is self-funded, but currently reviewing different options in terms of raising external capital, including crowdfunding. Right now, the firm is focused on completing the proof of concept within Massachusetts, but plans to expand to other U.S. states down the road.
“What has been interesting is the number of requests we have had from individuals and practitioners in remote parts of the country — we’re seeing a strong demand for connecting individuals and specialists from many unexpected locations,” added Morrone.
Images provided by Autism Care.