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Durham mom builds app to help kids on autism spectrum thrive

As her older son who is on the autism spectrum made the transition into preschool, Tracey Hawkins knew she'd need something more to help him adapt. That something more turned into an app that is designed to help children on the spectrum minimize triggers and identify and be more aware of their emotions.

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Tracey Hawkins, creator of THRIVE app
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
, Go Ask Mom editor

As her older son who is on the autism spectrum made the transition into preschool, Tracey Hawkins knew she'd need something more to help him adapt. That something more turned into an app that Hawkins has designed to help children on the spectrum minimize triggers and identify and be more aware of their emotions.

The app is THRIVE and works on Apple Watches. Its first phase of development should be complete by the end of July. Once the first phase is ready, she'll begin beta testing it with a targeted app store launch in the fall, so it's available to everybody. 

Hawkins, a North Carolina native, lives in Durham with her husband Zack. She's mom to three boys: Adam, 4, James Preston, 6, who are both on the autism spectrum, and a bonus son, Zachari, 19. "With the transition to mothering two kids with autism, balancing a full-time career in project management and launching a 'fam-tech” startup,' and the growing desire to increase autism awareness and acceptance, I decided to begin opening up personally about my boys’ autism diagnosis and our journey in parenting," she tells me.

I checked in with Hawkins to learn more about THRIVE. Here's a Q&A.

Go Ask Mom: You have two boys on the autism spectrum. What was going on in your life that triggered the development of THRIVE? What was the aha moment?
Tracey Hawkins: For individuals with autism, the aspect of change can (and most likely will) pose a major challenge for both the child and their caregiver. Any event of change (new faces, new schedules, new routines, new spaces and new environments) can become a trigger for overstimulation. As James Preston was transitioning into his pre-k classroom, I quickly saw the impact that a change in his environment and routine had on him and his ability to adapt and transition. At school, he began having frequent meltdowns and tantrums, hyperactivity, and could not follow simple directions given by his teachers. I looked and researched but could not find any comprehensive digital solutions on the market that would help James Preston understand and regulate his emotions and provide him with the organization and structure of his daily routine; which brings about comfort to him. So, as the saying goes: necessity [became] the mother of invention and the mom-preneur within me was born and the concept of the Thrive app was created!
GAM: How does THRIVE work?
TH: THRIVE offers a comprehensive and multifaceted approach to leveraging technology to aid in the development of self-regulating behaviors and strategies, provide structure, and reinforce positive behaviors. The app is intended to be downloaded and used on an Apple Watch (series 3 or more recent models). Once the app is downloaded, parents and caregivers can begin setting up their kids or loved ones' daily schedules and routines as well as adding the self-regulation strategies most familiar and helpful to the child. By pairing THRIVE with an Apple Watch, kids will be able to use their aids on-the-go while gaining the confidence and strategies for independence.
Courtesy: Tracey Hawkins
GAM: How does it help parents, teachers and others who work with individuals with autism?
TH: It takes a village to raise a child, but especially when it comes to a child with diverse needs or abilities. Depending on the child’s recommended therapies, there can be a number of members on the child’s treatment team and the THRIVE app allows the parents and caregivers to keep everyone informed and updated. Instead of parents having to send multiple emails to various treatment team members, they will be able to send a text via the app. Also, therapists and teachers can send a quick text to inform the parent about the kid’s day or changes to upcoming sessions, etc. It streamlines communications between parents and individuals therapy team members. Also, with the parents' permission, therapists and teachers can make any adjustments to the child’s visual schedule and a therapist could also manage the various emotion regulation strategies that the child is working on to regulate their emotions and store them within one location, the self-regulation toolbox. Another example that we are helping kids and families manage the kid’s resources and also ensure they are readily available and practiced when needed.
GAM: What are a couple of examples of how THRIVE helped your family with an issue?
TH: Each of the features were designed with the intent to help kids and families better navigate autism and other developmental and executive functioning needs/abilities. Schedules are extremely helpful and beneficial to our boys and their ability to understand the day’s routine and expectations. However, we are a family always on the go and I needed our kids' therapeutic resources to be more conducive to our lifestyle. Having the opportunity to make changes to their schedule electronically is an incredible relief! Also, having the boys' self-regulation strategies easily accessible at all times will be beneficial. They no longer have to carry notebooks or index cards outlining their strategies. The app allows kids the ability to have their resources with them at all times in a way that is less stigmatizing and helps encourage independence.
Courtesy: Tracey Hawkins
GAM: What are your hopes for THRIVE?
TH: Receiving an autism diagnosis can at times be overwhelming for families and hard for kids to understand at such a young age. My hope is that kids, parents, and families begin to see TOTS (Thriving on the Spectrum) as another resource for support and information. I hope kids are able to experience the benefits and joy of having their necessary tools all at their fingertips and the confidence in knowing that they can thrive in any setting!
Learn more about THRIVE and Hawkins' Thriving on the Spectrum community. The first phase of the app will be the self-regulation and visual schedule features. The other features (communication portal and rewards bank) will be released in the coming months following our initial launch in the app store.
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