by Juliana Fetherman
Advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves is my passion.
My brother Michael, who is 20 years old, was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at a young age. Growing up, my life has never been “normal”. My family and I have been continuously faced with challenges due to my brother’s disabilities. Although, this has brought us many challenges, it has also brought us some of the greatest gifts.
I am the person I am today due to the dynamic our circumstances provided us with. My parents and I are unbelievably close. We are a team and make decisions regarding my brother together, something that has translated to every other aspect of my life.
I’ve always been extremely caring, kind, and understanding of others’ circumstances. Throughout high school, I sat with individuals with special needs at lunch and hung out with them inside and outside of school. I inspired my friends and classmates to do the same. This created a dynamic during lunchtime that the school administrators have never seen.
I didn’t want to stop there.
When I went to college at Sacred Heart University, I made it my goal to build the autism awareness club. I did just that.
I was able to hold walks, kickball tournaments and many other events to raise money and awareness on campus. I raised and donated $10,000 during my two-year presidency, and even won “Club of the Year”, my senior year.
I loved this so much that I wanted to continue advocating in the real world and even make a career out of it. I started thinking about holes in my brother’s life, and promised that when I found a hole, I would create a solution.
Since my brother is high functioning, he is very aware of his differences, and wants nothing more than to be "normal". Not having friends is one of the many things that makes him feel “abnormal”. This makes him lonely and depressed. When I found this hole, I knew I had to do something about it.
I believe there are high odds of people living in neighboring towns around you that have a similar diagnosis, and need friends as well. That is the main reason why I am creating a mobile application that enables individuals with special needs, ages 13+, to make friends.
It matches them based on their geographic location, diagnosis, age, and interests. The application will be very user friendly, for it will work like a game. Users will generate an avatar of themselves that will display on a cartoon style map. The more friend matches they make, the more coins they earn to use for their avatar. This will create incentives to make friends on the app.
There will be several safety precautions throughout the sign up process, to ensure that people are exactly who they say they are. It will also provide "suggested fun spots" to meet with a potential friend match, such as bowling alleys, miniature golf courses and movie theaters, to name a few, in order to help persuade participants to get out and meet in a public place.
The app will be called Making Authentic Friendships–MAF for short–which are also my brother’s initials.
For people who already have many struggles in life, “Making Authentic Friendships” should not be one of them, especially when there are other people out there going through the same thing. I want to change this for my brother and the millions out there like him.
Starting a business while still in college is a difficult feat.
It is so difficult due to lack of experience, lack of connections, lack of funds, and lack of credibility.
These are things I never really felt, but I was so determined to make this happen that I wasn’t intimidated by these obstacles.
Many people in the business world doubted that I would be able to pull it off, and still do. Those comments make me more focused, and push me to work harder and prove them wrong.
Doubt has forced me out of my comfort zone and is the reason why I have gotten this far, therefore, I am thankful for them. I have made a crowdfunding video, crowdfunded $11K, planned two golf outings, made appearances on Cheddar (a video news network focused on covering innovative products, technologies and services to transform lives) and was invited to be a panelist at a Crowdfunding event at Bloomberg HQ NYC, among men double my age who have crowdfunded millions of dollars. Additionally, I have written blog posts for Autism Speaks and LiveGirl, and have appeared on numerous autism podcasts.
The point is, if you are passionate enough about something, all you need is faith in yourself and the belief that you can do whatever you set your mind to.