The Rise of Autism 360
Having grown up with a severely autistic brother, Ashish (‘Ash’) Bhattacharya was acutley aware of the fact autism families lacked assistance where they needed it most: at home.
So he ditched a secure job and invested the $85,000 he had in savings to kick-start a digital in-home program for autism families in November 2019.
Since then, Autism 360 has aided more than 150 families across Australia, fostering a 10,000-strong community. As word spread, operations have expanded overseas, the company now turning over $1.5 million.
Throughout his childhood in India, Ash watched on as his parents struggled to raise his severely autistic brother. His sibling, who could not leave the house alone without getting lost, was outcast in the schoolyard, eventually transferred to a special-needs school.
As a result of imitating some of his brother’s repetitive behaviours, Ash experienced temporary speech impairment and a loss of interest in social activities. At 12, he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome – which, today, is classified as a high-functioning form of autism.
Ash’s parents clung on to a false sense of hope that, at some point, his brother was going to ‘grow up’ and develop his own independence. However, even at age 39, he is semi-verbal and financially dependent on Ash and his parents for his daily living needs.
Ash migrated to Australia in 2010 and built a successful IT career in Sydney. Driven by his childhood experiences, Ash and his wife Shaeri – parents of two – developed autism information site Autismag in 2014. He opened an office in Delaware, US, in 2019, and today the site has a subscription base of 74,000.
In his extensive research, Ash discovered that early, intensive parent-driven intervention at home can improve outcomes for children on the autism spectrum. He recognised that while knowledge and awareness of autism have increased, the cookie-cutter, ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategies to treat it have remained the same.
In 2018, freed from his job, he developed the model for Autism 360. The three-month program matches a parent with a specialist practitioner or ‘coach’ with whom they create assessable home-based goals and activities based on the child’s needs. It incorporates Applied Behaviour Therapy and the Development, Individual Difference, Relationship-based Model (DIR Model), as well as strategies from therapists.
Parents are also ‘buddied-up’ with another autism parent to share experiences, ideas and perspectives.
The outbreak of COVID-19… has reinforced many parents’ belief that therapy is much more effective when conducted from the home, and with their direct involvement
Ash ran a pilot of the program in June 2019, in which 10 families were each matched with a therapist. It had a 90 per cent success rate. Most found the program so useful they re-enrolled once it launched to market. In November 2019, Ash launched the program publicly.
Today, Autism 360 has a nationwide team of 40 allied health professionals (including 17 staff members), most of whom include occupational and behavioural therapists, speech pathologists, and special educators. Its Facebook group, Autism 360 Club, is Australia’s largest Facebook community of autism families, with 8,000 members.
Autism 360 has more than 1,000 applications and over 3,000 expressions of interest by overseas families. In February, Ash launched Autism 360 in the US and Canada, leveraging the Delaware office.
In 2021, Ash plans to expand the program into the UK, and plans are afoot to launch an AI-powered Autism 360 app, which will enable autism families from anywhere in the world to self-design and implement strategies to foster their child’s development at home. Ash aims to have 10,000 participants globally by 2022.
“Autism 360 has been established in the Australian market at the right time. The outbreak of COVID-19 – which has fast-tracked the shift to digital – has reinforced many parents’ belief that therapy is much more effective when conducted from the home, and with their direct involvement,” Ash says.
“We believe we are on a journey to becoming the ‘solution’ of choice for autism families across Australia and, hopefully, globally.”
For more information about Autism 360, here’s the website: https://www.autism360club.com/