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Squagpads: Sara Winter Provides a Safe Place Online for People With Autism

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There is a website, newly-launched from Canada, called Squag.com, that is specifically for tweens and teens on the autism spectrum. It is a unique incorporation of social media and autism support, a way for these young people to interact online in a safe and carefully-constructed but open "corner of the web." Sara Winter, Suag's founder, is unique as well.

Indeed, though she is its founder, she is neither a mother of an autistic child or a software engineer. She is a mother of two "normal" young boys. Her background is in theater. She says, "I was fulfilling a lifelong dream of performing on Broadway when an injury brought me back home to Canada. A month later I started working as my nephew’s aide, and that pivotal decision, was definitely one of the best ones I’ve ever made. Being with him every day [for the past nine years has] changed the way I looked at everything."

For instance, she saw what an incredibly isolating experience living with autism was almost ten years ago, when her sister received this diagnosis for her son. "There was no Google, Twitter, or Facebook," back then, Sara says in an interview with YoYoMama. "Now, online communities have become the biggest support for a newly diagnosed family, and also for the adult ASD population. I thought that kids with ASD (with the support of their parents) should have that opportunity too."

The site isn't a blog or portal to a nonprofit, but a social media experience in-and-of itself designed specifically for young people with a diagnosis of autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), or Asperger Syndrome. Parents are an integral part of the experience, as they design what's called a "Squagpad" for their kid. They curate content and post positive messages for their son or daughter to see when they arrive in their room.

When their son or daughter does arrive, they are surrounded by all of their favorite things. They can watch videos, browse photos, and write in their journal. They scroll over their room, see those messages from their parents, and use them to create original thought about themselves. When the room is ready (and the parents are too), they "squag." Through a proprietary matching system monitored by their parents, kids are offered a small sample of Squaggers to connect with. If the other kid accepts, their Squagpads pop up together, and all the original thoughts they’ve created about themselves become available to spark conversation. Squagging is always one-on-one, based on matching criterion set up by the users parents. Kids have an opportunity to reach out to their peers based on common interests and shared experiences.

Another thing that makes both Sara and the site unique is that she set it up as one of Canada's first "Certified B Corporationa new kind of company that meet higher standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. Unlike traditional corporations, Certified B Corporations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their employees, suppliers, community, consumers, and environment and uphold certain standards. Ten percent of her company's profits go to local and global charities that serve kids with diverse needs.

When starting the site, Sara says she thought, "Why not?" We too, when starting any endeavor to enrich other's lives, would do well to think "why not?"

What are safe places online that you allow your kids to visit? What makes these places safe for your children?

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