When junior Steve Weideman noticed a family friend with autism struggling to find care during quarantine, he decided to create an app called Unique Care Connect that would help autistic individuals everywhere connect with local care providers.
Growing up, he said, his best friend’s brother Chris had severe intellectual disabilities. Spending time with Chris inspired Weideman to volunteer with various special needs programs at his local school.
“I didn’t even realize he was autistic until fourth or fifth grade and people started treating him differently,” Weideman said. “They’ve been pretty much my second family.”
Through his involvement with autistic individuals, Weideman said he learned the state of Michigan pays up to 20 hours of respite care per week per individual. He said many families struggle to coordinate with state-approved caregivers.
“Especially with profoundly autistic individuals, they have certain behaviors or conditions that people see on paper and say, ‘Oh, I’m okay with that,’ but once they get there, will freak a lot of people out,” Weidman said. “You have this issue where they come in, stay for an hour, and then they’re gone. What are you gonna do? It’s not like you’re paying for it, so your recourse is very limited.”
Weideman said he hopes his app will make the process of connecting families to caregivers and medical professionals easier.
“The thing that helps autistic people develop social skills is having constant individuals in their lives,” Weideman said. “It’s hard when you have caretakers like a rotating door.”
Unique Care Connect is similar to other apps used to connect individuals with caregivers, such as babysitters or geriatric nurses. Weideman said his app provides services only for individuals with intellectual disabilities, which are usually not a target group on most care sites.
“Our mission is to provide quality resources to the people that need them,” Weideman said.
Junior Becca Briskey, Weideman’s girlfriend, said his idea to create the app testifies to his devotion to austistic individuals.
“He loves to take care of people,” Briskey said. “Especially seeing him interact with Chris and how he loves him with all his heart, it doesn’t really surprise me that he would want to do something like this.”
Weideman said another inspiration of his was a student named Shihab from Bangladesh with intellectual disabilities. Weideman said he learned a bit of Bengali to communicate with Shihab and help him transition to life in the United States.
“Helping autistic kids has always been my passion,” Weideman said. “This app gives me a bit of freedom to do what I want and not be so constricted. It lets me feel like I’m using my full potential.”
After its projected release in late July to early August, the app will be free for everyone, aside from medical professionals who will be charged $5 for advertising fees. In order for the app to be free, Weideman said, he will rely on donations from special education communities everywhere.
“I want this app to be nationwide. I want to help as many people as we can help,” Weideman said. “All I need is the contact information of the special education department or a special education teacher from peoples’ hometowns.”
Weideman said although the app hasn’t been released yet, he believes the work he’s doing has the potential to impact many families.
“As soon as this app gets going, I’ll start seeing families actually benefiting from it and I can only imagine what that’s going to feel like,” Weideman said.
Briskey said she has loved watching Weideman grow in his pursuit of developing the app.
“It’s been really rewarding because I have my own goals that I feel are so unattainable,” Briskey said. “But seeing him do something like this, starting from scratch, has been really inspiring. I haven’t seen anyone do that. It’s the kind of thing you hear about in movies.”