Connecting resources with MA's special needs families
Four years ago, my oldest son was diagnosed with autism. Soon after, our family moved from Atlanta to Boston. We did not live near any family or friends when we moved to the South Shore. Fortunately, we found a practice near us that specialized in the services Jack needed in those early days. The practice was open, honest, and kind. They supported us during a time of great struggle and transition. We never forgot them and carried their spirit for helping others with us.
As our son grew older, his needs became more complicated. We had to find new providers that could service his unique set of needs. Still lacking a strong network at the time, we felt overwhelmed by the act of finding new services and specialists that were the best fit for our son. I remember thinking, "I wish there was something for special needs families that would help us find what we need all in one place."
As time went on and we connected with more families, we learned this need was not unique to us. Countless special needs families were in need of resources to help them take advantage of available services and supports.
Exceptional Lives co-founders Anne Marcus and Jay O'Brien also recognized this gap, and began working to fill it, starting with Exceptional Lives’ step-by-step Guides. More recently, they collaborated with providers and families to offer another life-changing resource: a free, searchable online directory of disability programs and providers in Massachusetts.
This directory is an updated and redesigned version of a resource database previously run by the nonprofit Autism Consortium, whose resource specialists used to connect families to resources. The resource specialists served families at Boston Children’s Hospital, Mass General Hospital’s Lurie Center, Tufts Floating Hospital for Children, Boston Medical Center, and UMass Memorial in Worcester.
Once in Exceptional Lives’ hands, a team of dedicated individuals worked to bring the Resource Directory to life, led by Paul Shafer, Exceptional Lives’ data manager. Working closely with Anne and Jay, Paul oversaw the redesign of the Resource Directory, and he continues to oversee, manage, and collect data for the directory today! A passionate advocate for the special needs community, Paul ensured that each and every resource included in the directory was personally contacted, updated, and verified by one of our team members.
Overall, the Resource Directory team dedicated more than 2,000 hours vetting each resource to ensure that each one not only provides specific programs and services, but also welcomes special needs families with open arms.
A Powerful Impact
The Resource Directory currently contains more than 1,200 resources in 54 service categories, from adaptive equipment, after-school programs, and adult family care to speech therapists, transition services, transportation, and vocational programs. And more will be added in the months ahead.
Providing a user-friendly experience was equally critical to the team. Parents and professionals can do quick and easy searches by zip code, age, disability, and service type. They can see if a service is covered by MassHealth, or if a facility is wheelchair-accessible. They can get a resource map for options in your local area. So with a few simple questions, your family gains resources that will help your child.
In its first week, the Resource Directory has been used by nearly a thousand people. And more parents and professional use it each day. If you haven’t tried it yet, click below to find resources near you for your exceptional family member, today!