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Reston-based App Gives ‘Sherpas’ to Young Adults with Autism

by Fatimah Waseem January 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm 23 Comments

Doug Meeker calls himself a corporate refugee. His son’s diagnosis with autism in 2003 pushed him off the corporate bandwagon and into the launch what he calls a “quest”: Life Sherpa.

The Reston-based app turns smartphones into personal trainers, giving young adults with executive functioning challenges like his 15-year-old son a step-by-step behavioral training program to traverse their day.

The concept is inspired by the Sherpas, an ethnic minority group in Eastern Nepal who have helped travelers like Edmund Hillary — the first person to climb Mt. Everest — navigate the treacherous mountain terrain.

The app’s main objective is to help young adults gain life skills as they transition into adulthood. It has drawn a diverse team of organizers, including members in Romania and India, who are united in their effort to help young adults overcome executive functioning challenges.

“The thing that keeps parents up at night is what happens they become adults. We can teach job skills to this population all day long, but… if they don’t have the basic life skills, it’s very hard to retain the job skills,” Meeker said. “The question comes down to this: How can we help this population gain more self-reliance?”

The app allows caregivers, therapists, counselors, school administrators and other stakeholders involved with the user to remotely monitor and measure their client’s progress.

But Meeker says the app’s goal was never to replace in-person human interaction critical to people’s success.

“What we really want to do is help the innovators scale their efforts. The more we can help them do that, the more we can free up resources to help more kids,” Meeker said.

Close to 100 clients are registered on the platform since its soft launch last in February last year.

Meeker said he believes the app will be successful because it draws on individual’s skills like close attentiveness to detail and the ability to solve complex problems.

The app also generates metrics and analytics to track client’s progress — departing from the days when clipboards and stopwatches were the primary tools for recording progress. Life Sherpa also uses consistent phrases and directions that are critical for successful behavioral therapy, he said.

Meeker hopes the app will continue to help young adults like his son — who is also a cancer survivor — transition into adult life.

“This is a personal quest. It’s all about creating ways for the individual to be independent and still be connecting to the people that are supporting them,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Doug Meeker

  • The Conservative

    Sherpa? Sounds foreign and scary to me. Thank goodness President Trump will keep these Sherpas out of the USA!

    • Mike M

      No, silly. But he will try to halt the odd preference for SHers!

      • Willie Reston

        What you consider odd, history tells us is the status quo for immigration to this country. But please, tell us all about those wealthy Norwegians just dying to immigrate to America!

        • The Constitutionalist

          A wealthy Norwegian is firmly middle class in the USA.

          • Mike M

            And yet they enjoy higher standards of living. From Norway’s perspective, the US might be a s***hole.

          • The Constitutionalist

            I disagree. Their idea of happiness isn’t the same as ours. They are content with much, much less.

          • Mike M

            Happiness is happiness, but for what it is worth Norway has a higher GDP per capita than the US. America doesn’t have an economic crisis as much as it has a social crisis. People are making more money, but they’re increasingly more distrustful of government (increased 15% since 2006), of business, and of each other.

          • The Constitutionalist

            I don’t really see the connection between GPD per capita and individual happiness. The difference between the two countries is your wealth in Norway is entirely dictated by your class and nationality where ours isn’t. They don’t have an “American Dream.” Since their inception, their people have lived and have learned to be content with less.

            Necessities here are luxury goods in Norway.

            We’ve also fallen back into the category of comparing the United States to another xenophobic white ethnostate which looks inwardly instead of outwardly. A fine country, but it just doesn’t compare, in part because they can’t hold a candle up to our statistical troubles.

          • Mike M

            The GDP bit was supposed to refer back to your point about wealthy Norwegians being firmly middle class here. Not that GDP always translates to median income, but in the US it used to be fairly correlated up until about the 80s.

            There are plenty of reasons we shouldn’t compare a nation with the population of South Carolina but the density of Kansas, but it is always worth looking into reasons why nations have better self-reported standards of living and happiness (which are completely subjective).

            It could absolutely be that Americans are culturally harder on themselves because of the prospect of a better life.

            Even if you did not want to move to Norway for their non-tangible happiness, you could still find that same standard of living in any of the small towns around the mid-west.

          • The Constitutionalist

            I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned trust. I think overwhelmingly the northern European countries believe their governments have their best interest in mind.

          • Mike M

            Oh look, the guy so obsessed with Mike M, he chooses to imitate him and put words in his mouth. Will you be moving to Norway fake Mike M? Would you like me to help you pack?
            PS: They absolutely do not enjoy a higher standard of living. These measures are highly subjective in what they exclude and include.

        • Mike M

          I’ll try to keep it simple, Willie. You see, US immigration policy isn’t about the interests of foreigners. It’s about the interests of the current voters. Why would we give preference to people who come from the dregs of global society? That was the question our President was asking. That type of question is what other candidates wouldn’t ask. THAT’s why he is your President. His choice of language changes NOTHING factual. His question is valid, even if you don’t like his word choice. Can you, or anyone answer his simple question without melting down about his word choice?
          PS: I doubt history tells you very much at all.

          • Willie Reston

            Perhaps you ought to take a field trip to the Statue of Liberty and read the inscription at its base.

          • Mike M

            Last time I checked:
            – The statue was made in France.
            – The inscription is not part of US law.
            – The inscription says nothing about giving preference to anyone.
            – The author was referring to Europe. (Read her poem the New Colossus.)
            -The lines appeal to those who “yearn to breathe free.”
            – The inscription was posted at a time when our government-provided benefits were not so debt-fueled and the expectations of immigrants were higher.

            If we allowed our soft little hearts to make policy, we would be utterly inundated in short order by Indians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Africans, Latins Americans. We would, in short order cease to the the US and we would become more like the SHs from whence they all came. We need a little common sense in immigration – less emotion.

            Post this inscription to your statue and read it:

            “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American … There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag … We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language … and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

            Theodore Roosevelt 1907

          • Willie Reston

            Nice words from Teddy, but last I checked, they aren’t official US immigration policy either.

          • Mike M

            You bore me, dude. Check the definition of ‘pedant.’

            He was duly elected President of the US. His views are much the same of the current one.

          • The Constitutionalist

            We have an actual, official immigration policy you know, the problem is that you don’t like it to the point of actively supporting people who break those laws.

            If you want to have an actual discussion on immigration law, I’d love to participate. It’s written down and its easy to cite.

        • Reston Realist

          Willie, do you mean emigrate to America? Not sure you understand what immigrate means…..

          • Willie Reston

            Actually, I understand the uses of the words perfectly. To immigrate is to enter a foreign country; to emigrate is to leave one’s country. Bet you wish you looked that one up first, don’t you? And please don’t delete your post out of cowardice.

          • Reston Realist

            Wrong again, lefty… They emigrate to America from Norway.

          • Willie Reston

            Wrong again as always, righty. Go ahead and google “emigrate vs. immigrate” and let’s see if you have the cojones to come back and admit your total failure.

          • Reston Realist

            I did and the answer does not resolve your problem with grammar tough guy……. you are having problems understanding that you are not an immigrant until you have landed in the new country of which you emigrated to from your old country.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    From the level of discourse below, it seems that some people on here need more help with social skills than the people with developmental disabilities for which this app was created.

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