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New app helps people with special needs find and make friends

4 years 3 months 2 hours ago Monday, February 24 2020 Feb 24, 2020 February 24, 2020 8:56 AM February 24, 2020 in News
Source: WBRZ

Making friends can be challenging. In fact, a January 2020 study revealed that three in five adults (61%) reported suffering from loneliness. But the challenge of building trustworthy relationships with people outside of one's own family can be especially daunting for those with special needs. 

This is precisely why 23-year-old Juliana Fetherman created an app called Making Authentic Friendships.

The app helps people with special needs find and make friends with people they're likely to relate to. 

MAF asks users their name, age, location and diagnosis. Eventually, the algorithm will match people based off diagnoses. Currently, it shows everybody's location (based off of zip code only) and allows people to connect with one another.

It works like a game. Users sign in, create an avatar that looks like them and then find friends on an interactive map. The more a user chats with people, the more coins they earn. Those coins will then be able to be used for things like new clothes for the avatar or in the future, audio and video chats.

Fetherman created the app after realizing how difficult it was for her brother, Michael, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism, to make friends in school.

"He's verbal, but he doesn't like to talk," Fetherman told CNN. "Just making and keeping conversations is something that's really awkward for him, and it's hard for him to initiate that."

The pain of watching someone she loved struggle with loneliness inspired Fetherman to create MAF as a way to help people like Michael establish meaningful relationships.

In its first stage, the app is a website that operates like an app. 

As the creators work to build the database and gain users, its focus is on chatting. 

In the next six months or so, Fetherman hopes to have the iPhone and Android app developed. 

Of course, there are safety concerns with any app that asks for and shows users' locations, but Fetherman said her team is already taking precautions to keep users as safe as possible.

Exact locations are never shared. It asks for a zip code, and then randomly places a pin within 30 miles.

Every chat is monitored on the back end and certain words and phrases are blocked -- users aren't even able to type them. But if something worrisome is said, it's flagged and Fetherman will investigate.  

MAF launched in August 2019 and already has users in 35 states, 12 countries and on five continents. 

Its biggest user base is in the New England area.

Click here for more information on the new app.

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