CHESTER SPRINGS, Pa. — Business Summary and Interview by H.O. Kipp
Forty-eight-year-old Topher Wurts has been around the block a time or two in the world of business with some blue-chip global firms where he was known for bringing together marketing, technology and general skills and teamwork to accomplish the most challenging of goals fast and efficiently.
Then one day he learned his son had autism and he was floored. Literally. All of a sudden he and his family had become one of 2.8 million families in the U.S. whose lives have been affected by autism. He also knew there wasn’t going to be an easy fix.
Wurts didn’t know where to turn. In his mind there wasn’t much out there to help him to understand autism and how to cope with all the problems that come with it.
Most importantly, he didn’t know where to go for help even though he had carefully reviewed the offerings from the five known U.S. autism organizations such as Autism Speaks and Autism Society of America.
So putting his experienced entrepreneurial hat on, he invented the socially responsible project Autism Village. Its mission, Wurts says, is to build online and mobile tools to help millions of families, like his, “in raising children with autism to realize better outcomes for their kids.”
Nothing could have prepared Wurts for his true feelings about autism. Initially, like most parents of autistic children, he was in denial and even rejected what a trained Easter Seals’ nurse said about Kirby.
On the second visit, she told Wurts and his wife, Jana, that Kirby had autism. She said with her experience she “just knew.” And, she did indeed know.
Now even Wurts can pick out autistic children in photographs or in person.
He just knows, and more importantly he knows that building the tools and services on Autism Village will not only help re-define him by this work, but also provide parents and the organizations supporting autistic children with the desperately needed tools for improved successful outcomes.
In order to learn more about autism in general and Wurts’ vision for Autism Village, we visited with him in his home office in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
Kipp: So why are you creating Autism Village?
Wurts: If you’re an “autism parent” your biggest worry is: what will I do when the bus stops coming? When I die, how will my child survive? Who will care for him? There are lots of people working on research into causes and various treatment curriculums, apps, strategies, and approaches. But there are many just practical issues to manage life with autism. I was inspired to try and help the autism community with these practical things: finding autism friendly places and products. Having a secure place to discuss strategies and approaches to treatments and interventions. Having secure and private areas for the family “teams” to coordinate and collaborate. That sort of practical management tools for life with autism...that’s Autism Village.
Kipp: How do you define autism?
Wurts: Autism is a neurological development disorder in which a child doesn’t easily develop social relationships, often fails to make eye contact, is isolated, behaves in compulsive and ritualistic ways, and is often unable to participate productively with neuro-typical peers.
Kipp: What causes autism?
Wurts: There are many ideas; some are kooky. The fact is that no one knows for sure. However, we certainly do know that autism isn’t caused by poor parenting!
Kipp: Are boys or girls more likely to have autism?
Wurts: The disorder is two-to-four times more common in boys than girls.
Kipp: When do you notice autism?
Wurts: Signs of autism usually appear in the first twenty-four months of life.
Kipp: Are there different degrees of autism?
Wurts: Absolutely. They call it the “autism spectrum”. And some kids are “deep” and some are “shallow” in the spectrum. The higher functioning kids (shallow) are sometimes called Aspergers and they may seem socially awkward and not much more. At the other end the kids can be completely isolated and have severe issues coping with life in any and every way. Some even have issues like seizures or other disabilities mixed with autism.
Kipp: Is there a cure for autism?
Wurts: There’s no cure per se but there is some consensus about treatments. Outcomes are improved with intensive care, and social, educational, and therapeutic interventions. The earlier that these are started, the better the results.
Kipp: What does Autism Village offer to children and parents of autism?
Wurts: We provide a private and secure online platform with various services, for example we are building a service which is like Yelp or TripAdvisor but just for the autism community. We also have facilities where families can organize their teams and documents in order to be more productive and where organizations, like autism schools, can manage the delivery of their programs and curriculums. We focus on supporting the autism community as it is right now. We leave finding causes and cures to the scientists.
Kipp: What makes your organization different from the other autism organizations?
Wurts: Many reasons. For openers, our main goal is help autism families raise productive, self-sufficient adults. For us, the parent is the customer. And we have the whole package for them to implement.
Kipp: What do you mean by that?
Wurts: With a sophisticated and mature online platform, we are able to coordinate activities of the child and parents, notes from the teachers, therapist activities, and recommendations of and suggested actions by the doctors. In a very real sense, we provide “an immediate conference call for action 24/7”. The platform also provides private and secure document storage, management, and search for the myriad of documents that parents and autism teams deal with every day.
Kipp: When will you have Autism Village up and running?
Wurts: Our early access version is running now on a development/preview URL. We plan to launch our service like Yelp within a quarter after our Kickstarter campaign completes.
Kipp: How will you reach your audience to get them using Autism Village?
Wurts: We know that many autism parents are very active online and even more so the specialists, educators, and therapists.
- We’ll focus our outreach efforts online in social media, search, and the autism blogosphere.
- We have a nice tailwind of autism related PR and media interest that we’ll also leverage to get the word out about Autism Village.
- Our free access to our these high quality and community rated and reviewed directories should generate some word of mouth.
Editor’s Note: Author H.O. Kipp is an award winning editor and former publisher of a small business publication.