This guest Q&A is with Gena Mann, the co-founder of Wolf + Friends, a modern lifestyle app for moms raising children with special needs such as ADHD, learning differences, developmental delays, anxiety, giftedness, mental health issues, sensory processing issues, down syndrome, and autism. You can download the app for iOS here.
Hi Gena! When did you first get involved in our special needs community?
My oldest son was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 (He is now 16). At the time, I dove into figuring out the appropriate therapies and schools for him. When he was 3, we moved from NYC to CT and I did it all over again….I guess other than caring for my son, I wasn’t very involved in the greater special needs community until a few years ago when a former magazine colleague and old friend approached me to help with a business idea she had-a shopping and lifestyle platform for families raising children with special needs. I partnered with her and over the course of 2 years we pivoted our site into a content, commerce, and community app for moms with children with special needs. We launched our app, Wolf+Friends in October and are already getting terrific feedback from our community of moms who are joining and connecting with other moms that live nearby.
How are your kids doing today?
My 2 sons both have ASD diagnoses. (I have 2 typical daughters as well.) My eldest son has made tremendous progress. He is in a wonderful school program and is participating in several different job training programs. He is somewhat verbal (not conversational as much as only able to express his needs and desires). He is happy and loves going out in the community. My younger son (now 15) is extremely high functioning. He attends a private school for all kinds of different learners. He is social and an incredible musician-he plays guitar, sings and can pretty much play anything he hears.
I LOVE the idea of the Wolf + Friends app. How did this idea come about for our community to take advantage of?
In spending time listening to our loyal following of moms from our Instagram and our site, we realized that moms whose children receive any kind of diagnosis setting them apart from their peers, feel incredibly isolated. They feel like the friends they had pre-diagnosis don’t really have a handle on what their lives are like after. We wanted to help special needs moms find their tribe! Having friends who also have children with autism has been so important to me, we thought if we could help moms in this process, it would be so beneficial.
One of my favorite quotes on the app is “Find A Mentor. Be A Mentor.” I love this because I mentor to help those with special needs based on my own experiences growing up with a disability in autism. How important has mentoring been to you?
So important! I owe everything to those first few moms I met when I moved to a new place with 2 sons who had special needs They helped me figure out school stuff, the best therapists around, autism friendly places and activities. They were a lifesaver to my family in the early years and continue to be. I get a lot of calls from moms whose children are newly diagnosed and I try to offer advice and support whenever I can. With our app, I am trying to pay it forward on a larger scale.
You’ve worked with so many amazing organizations! Any events that you’ve participated in that stand out to you?
We did a special needs friendly lunch at a Michelin Star Restaurant in NYC last November with a company called Nibble+Squeak. We had an amazing meal and set up a sensory room in the restaurant where kids could go take a break if they needed it. It was very special for my family and all the families that attended.
If you could give just one piece of advice to parents with children who are newly diagnosed with autism what would you tell them?
Surround yourself with people who get it. It’s so important to find a friend or two who can relate to your experience raising children with special needs.
Editor’s note: It’s people like Gena who are making positive change for those in our community. It takes a village and with the help of those like her we can help make sure our families are supported in a creative way! I’d highly recommend her app. Download it today for free here. – Kerry Magro