Birdhouse Aims to Be Go-To App for Families Coping with Autism

[Corrected 1/5/15, 2:35 pm. See below.] Ben Chutz and Dani Gillman, co-founders of the Detroit-based startup Birdhouse for Autism, launched their company in 2012 because they were struggling to manage their daughter’s autism with the current tools available. For years, Gillman relied on paper notebooks, then a table she designed in Microsoft Word and printed out to keep in a three-ring binder. Each day, she would record her daughter’s behavior, sleep, vitamins and supplements, and bowel movements.

That proved to be a major headache. After Chutz joined the family, he was dismayed by the fact that something so important was being tracked with relatively primitive tools instead of incorporating analytics and other technologies that could make the job significantly easier.

“There are types of apps developed for the autism community that are focused on kids, but we found very few developed for parents,” Chutz says. “There are apps to track particular therapies or medicine adherence, but they weren’t fun to use or focused on the modern user experience. I found we were bouncing between apps, and we wanted to bring it under one roof.”

Chutz and Gillman set out to find a design they liked to apply to the task of tracking their “Little Bird’s” progress, and Birdhouse for Autism was born. What Birdhouse offers is a website and app for parents and other caregivers raising kids with autism to help track behavior and activities, and assist in the coordination of health information.

“With autism, there are so many more questions than answers,” Chutz says, adding that nobody is sure exactly how many people live with the disorder, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder. “It’s a poorly understood diagnosis, and right now, there’s only one diagnosis for a collection of behavioral issues and delays. Doctors tell parents to track their child’s behavior day-to-day because the child can’t always tell you how they’re feeling.”

The free Birdhouse app allows users to keep a record of various supplements and medicines their child has taken and what the effect has been; track therapeutic activities; and record an ongoing timeline of their kid’s daily behaviors—when they go to sleep and wake up, how they’re feeling, whether they have a meltdown and the severity of it, and what they’re eating. A premium version of the app that offers enhanced features is also available for $10 per month.

“Over time, you can see your child’s progress,” Chutz says. “When you log these things, you can see the patterns easier.”

Typically, Chutz says, an autistic child’s care team, consisting of all their doctors and specialists, meets once or twice a year to deliver a progress report. The Birdhouse app can facilitate that kind of collaboration online more often and at a fraction of the price. “It’s very expensive to get everyone together in person,” he explains. “Birdhouse gets everyone on the same page to see what people are working on. It’s a higher standard of care that’s impossible with the current tools.”

The company’s long-term goal is for its app to be considered a must-have tool once parents learn their child has been diagnosed with autism: “When a new therapist is hired by a family, we want parents to invite them to their child’s Birdhouse and [the therapist] already knows about it and has an account.”

Mira Krishnan, director of the Center for Autism at Hope Network, works with autistic kids in Grand Rapids, MI, and is a Birdhouse user. “I think Birdhouse is perfect,” she says. “It helps families do what they already do in a far more sophisticated way. What’s really special is it’s designed for our kids and parents by people in the autism community.”

Chutz says thousands of families are already using the app, and the tight-knit nature of the autism community has helped spread the word about it to families coping with a diagnosis. The company has three full-time employees and also works with a handful of … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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