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Squag: Connecting Kids with Autism through Social Networking

Inside a Squag account

You know we’re all about connecting here at Support for Special Needs, which is why we were so intrigued when we learned about Squag™, which is a social networking site specifically for kids with autism. We checked out their web site and walked away knowing we wanted to interview the founder to learn more. The following is our Q&A with Squag™ founder Sara Winter. (You’ll love the story behind how the site got its name!)

Can you tell us how you got the idea for Squag™?

I have a spectacular eleven-year-old nephew with autism. I’ve been his aide at home and at school almost every day for the past nine years. One day at recess, something happened on the basketball court; I could see that there was a social “mishap”, and things were moving too fast for him to process. It was heartbreaking to watch him fall apart in front of his friends. Once the bell rang, and we had a chance to be alone, I suggested that he try to use my blackberry to articulate his feelings to his father. It was incredible to see how differently he was able to express himself! Not only was he able to communicate his version of what had happened, but he was also able to process his father’s responses enough to calm down on his own. At that moment, I realized that a unique technology should be developed to support kids on the autism spectrum (and their families and support networks) to help them break down the big idea of friendship and to let them know that they are not alone.

I did an immense amount of research on depression in kids on the autism spectrum, particularly the catastrophic and long term effects of bullying. I’ve been lucky enough to work with so many unbelievable, inspiring and engaged people in the ASD community these past nine years. I reached out to all of them, and together, we built Squag™.

How did the name came about?

Squag [skwag] was one of my nephew’s first words back in the earliest days of ABA therapy. It was the word he used for “square”. My sister was the one who thought of it during our earliest brainstorm sessions. It conjured up such a vivid memory of where he had once been and how far he’s come – we’ve never even considered another name.

What did you know would be vital to make it what you wanted it to be?

Security. Security. Security. It was our first, and still remains the most paramount priority for our company. We addressed it on every level in order to make Squag™ work – from the way we engineered the software, to the way we advertise and reach out to our community. All of our security features are listed on our site, in an accessible, easy-to-understand way:

How does Squag™ work? What is the parental component?

The parental component is 50% of the entire piece; the app does not work without parent involvement and vice versa. The parents are the members, and create an account for their child. They add content for their child (and only their child) to see in their own personal Squagpad™. Parents can update it as often as they want, and their son or daughter uses this content to create original thoughts about themselves.

Once their child is using the app, there is a reporting section where parents have access to the details from every conversation. Parents can monitor everything easily; it is very organized and easy to understand.

Why do you feel children should have the chance to understand and utilize online social networking?

Whether we like it or not, the social media train has left the station. As kids get older, there is a lot of pressure to be part of a social network. I am the least tech savvy mom there is (I could barely send an email before I started this process two years ago!) but I strongly believe that in order to keep up with our kids we have a responsibility to familiarize ourselves with this “beast”.

Social networking has become a lifeline for this new generation of ASD parents; it’s put them in touch with the latest resources and ideas in autism, but more than that, it’s given them connectivity to someone else going through the same thing in real time. We feel out kids should have the opportunity to benefit from that support system as well, in a safe, monitored environment where they are free to be themselves and to know that they are not alone.

In what ways is Squag™ different from traditional platforms (facebook, twitter)?

In a lot of ways, Squag™ is the opposite of Facebook or Twitter. To me, the latter is more about acquisition and sharing, while Squag™ has been designed specifically to slow things down and reflect privately. Squag™ is always one to one, with no file sharing of any kind; they never leave the app, much like a video game. The idea was to take the best parts of social networking, customize them for our kids, and leave the rest.

What kinds of things can kids do in Squag™? How do they connect with other kids?

Each user has their own individual Squagpad™ where they can listen to music, look at photos, and keep a journal. As they scroll over their room, they see tangible and encouraging messages from their parents to use as a springboard to create original thoughts about themselves. There’s a mirror in the pad where they (and only they) can see themselves; the idea is to take the time to self-reflect and remember who they are; their likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, things they’re proud of etc. before reaching out to find a peer who shares common interests.

Very soon, we will be adding yoga videos and music lessons in the privacy of the Squagpad™, all to promote regulation, mind/body connection, and sense of self.
Once their Squagpad™ is the way they like it, they open the door to find a friend with common interests. They request to “squag”, the two pads pop up on the same screen, and all of the original thoughts they’ve added about themselves become available to spark conversation.

How much is a Squag ™membership? Are there different levels?

The Squag™ membership is $7.99 per month with 10% of the profits going directly to local and global ASD charities.

If there’s anything else you’d like to let us know, that would be great.

We built this application because we believe that kids on the autism spectrum are capable of anything if they have access to the proper support system and an environment that reflects their needs. As we build our community, we look forward to having member involvement, so that as we evolve, we will continue to offer a fluid dynamic little corner of the web that reflects a group of kids living in a world that isn’t always as exceptional as they are.

You can also follow Squag™ on Twitter: @squagdotcom

And like them on Facebook.

Note: To support the site we make money on some products, product categories and services that we talk about on this website through affiliate relationships with the merchants in question. We get a small commission on sales of those products.That in no way affects our opinions of those products and services.

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One Comment
  1. yollie
    October 14, 2010 |