When a child receives an autism diagnosis, it can be extremely overwhelming for the family to find all the proper resources and therapy options that will work best for their child. This is why HedgeHog Health is dedicated to providing trusted therapy support for families when they need it most — “because building courage and consistency brings opportunity to autism.”
Being a parent in general is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Being a parent to a child on the autism spectrum can make that job even harder if a family isn’t given the proper support and resources to best navigate their child’s unique behavior. One of the biggest complaints among Autism centers and services in the US is the amount of time families spend on wait lists once their child is diagnosed.
Typically, a child will receive their official diagnosis, and then the family could spend anywhere from two months to two years on a waitlist to get their child into an organized program/therapy.
Today, more and more Autism centers are simply overwhelmed and understaffed to handle the influx of families needing help, which is why so many spend so long on wait lists. Additionally, many of the centers that currently exist mainly focus on working with the child, and then provide the parents with basic updates on the progress they’re making. Not enough centers are focused on working directly with the parents and providing them with the tools they need at home to carry out the work they do in the office.
It’s for these reasons and more that Parker Lynch wanted to create his own company that would help not only children on the autism spectrum, but the families as well. HedgeHog Health was built by teachers, doctors and parents who are passionate about changing Applied Behavior Analysis therapy (ABA therapy) with parent-led coaching. They’re known for delivering “tech-inspired Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) solutions that enhance the child’s progress, while also providing trusted ABA therapy support for your family,” according to their website.
“Once there’s a concern that a child might have Autism, we immediately focus on making the diagnosis happen without putting kids on long wait lists. As it currently stands a lot of organizations are overwhelmed, so it could take anywhere from two months to two years for a child to actually receive a proper treatment/therapy plan that’s best for them.” ”
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Lynch about how HedgeHog Health came to life, and how it works to combat the current systemic issues within Autism center spaces.
“HedgeHog Health honestly started with an idea that I had. I’ve been a teacher for the past decade, and I’ve had the opportunity to teach all over the world. I went to New York University to get my double Masters in special education and childhood education, and the great thing about that experience was that NYU does a great job at exposing its students to other schools and educational settings. A lot of these settings had different forms of technology implemented in the classroom to make learning easier, and after seeing the positive outcomes that would come from that, the idea for HedgeHog began to form.”
“Once I actually was teaching and working with students more directly, I was able to see those positive outcomes first hand. I remember I was shadowing a student who was undiagnosed, but on the spectrum, who used a fidget toy but wasn’t allowed to bring it into the computer lab. He was really upset that he wasn’t able to bring the toy in with him, so I began looking up if there were any existing fidget computer mouse’s that he could use in the future and I couldn’t find anything.”
At this point, Lynch thought about how he could create some sort of fidget toy that would help provide kids with stimulation while also rewarding them.
“I began to think about why a mouse only goes from user to computer, and there’s no tactile response or reward when a child gets something right. The idea started as a computer mouse that engages all five of the senses, so when a student gets something correct, they feel either a vibration, see a light, begin to smell lavender, etc. So that idea is what I ended up patenting, and at that point I brought in a co-founder so we could get serious about starting the business as a whole.”
After all the creative brainstorming, the Hoglet was born. “Initially, we worked on just creating a mouse with tactile responses to make it easier for us to develop, and then we started a kickstarter to gage the public’s interest in a project like this. Our initial goal was to raise $65,000 and we ended up making $71,000 in 30 days. That proved to us that this was something the public needed, and especially during the pandemic. The fact that kids have been forced to sit in front of a computer all day to get their learning is hard, so our goal was to give them something to alleviate the frustration of not being in a traditional classroom setting,” Lynch explained.
Beyond just the Hoglet, Lynch and his team began working on creating new ABA therapy options that emphasized parent-coaching and tele-medicine for families who needed it. As they began to develop and grow HedgeHog Health as a whole, they began speaking with more families to better understand what they weren’t getting from more traditional approaches to treatment and therapy, and what they personally wanted more of.
“When we first started HedgeHog Health it was really important to me to hear from the families directly. I spoke with a lot of parents, and almost every time we would hear complaints about long waitlists and being left in the dark for months from other organizations in terms of diagnosis and treatment options.”
“Once we began building the company up more with the Hoglet and parent coaching, we realized a major issue within the current Autism space in America has to do with the diagnostic process. For example, I’m currently in Florida, which is the state we’re really focusing on right now, and we’re bringing a traveling diagnostician, who’s bilingual, to families to help them get a better grasp on their situation. We’re currently certified to do work in 13 states but at the moment our focus is on Florida.”
Dr. Jordan Bourdeau is another co-founder of HedgeHog Health who is known for starting five autism centers throughout Michigan. Lynch explained that Dr. Bourdeau is “a firm believer in ‘parent coaching,’ and through those methods is able to work with kids directly after diagnosis, as opposed to making these families wait for months after receiving a diagnosis and not knowing what to do next.” This was one of the biggest priorities for the team when they first began, and it’s exactly what they’ve been able to accomplish as well.
Lynch explained how current ABA therapy isn’t as parent focused as it should be: “Our ABA Therapy options are all about incorporating the parent and reducing time to effective treatment. Dr. Boudreau is the individual responsible for overseeing therapy services, and typically the therapy involves teaching small easy to achieve steps toward improved communication, acceptance and cooperation.
The Hoglet is an amazing example of how this therapy actually works, as a computer mouse it can be used for school, games, videos, etc. but the tactile responses also provide a great sense of relief and stimulation for the child when they practice “desired behavioral outcomes.”
“Obviously not every child receiving ABA therapy will need the Hoglet, but because it’s such a specialized device it’s able to help a wide variety of them. The overall purpose of it is to provide children with stimulation who are needing an external source to focus their energy into.”
According to Lynch, the Hoglet is just the beginning in terms of products and tools that HedgeHog Health will be providing to families. “Eventually we want to go even further with the Hoglet, essentially we want the next generation to store data in terms of the student and the assignments they’re working on. We’re developing a chrome extension and digital app for users as well so that the mouse is more connected to the child and their behavior as they work online.”
While the Hoglet is a truly unique product, it’s merely a small example of the amazing and direct work that HedgeHog Health is doing with families all around the country.
“Beyond just the Hoglet, our company is unique because of the emphasis we put on parent coaching and ABA Therapy. Dr. Jordan or any of the other Board Certified Behavioral Analysts that work with us are able to directly connect with parents.”
“Autism centers typically focus on the child exclusively, and will provide some level of parent coaching once a month, if that. Normally these parent-coaching sessions work like a parent-teacher conference where experts just give a rundown of everything the child has been experiencing in the previous month, and then list out goals for the next one, other than that the parents are barely involved,” Lynch explained.
“Our goal is to provide parents with the tools they need to help their kids at home. We help out so many families while they’re on waiting lists for other centers, and more times than not we’re able to provide helpful advice and services that they can start using right away, instead of waiting indefinitely.”
Lynch also emphasized that Hedgehog Health supports a multitude of Autism centers throughout the country, but the main issue lies in how long the families are kept in the dark in terms of their child’s well-being.
“The volume of parents that I’ve talked to lately regarding their past experiences with Autism centers versus their experience with us and our diagnostician services has also been really eye-opening. We work with these families right when they reach out to us. I had one parent tell me recently that she felt like she’s been seen for the first time since she found out her child was on the spectrum. That’s the key, providing specific and proper therapy to the children while helping the parents navigate all of the new information being given to them.”
“We just really want to help these parents navigate raising a child with Autism. We don’t have a combative relationship with traditional Autism centers, and we’ll even recommend ones that we find the most helpful to some families. It’s just the constant waiting is an issue that needs to be addressed, and luckily we can provide some level of support in that department.”
One of Hedgehog Health’s 3rd party diagnostician, Dr. Cabrera, recently said this of one of the parent’s responses to the ABA Therapy support they provide:
“Just finished the feedback session with Gideon’s mother. She is so happy with Hedgehog and the support we have given her, as well as the turnaround time. She said she felt she was heard for the first time and has been telling everyone how great HedgeHog Health is.”
Another individual living in the Tampa Bay, Florida area gave feedback on Hedgehog, claiming that the “normal diagnosis waitlist time for Tampa Bay is 6 months, and my son’s wait for a diagnosis at HedgeHog only took 3 days.”
Lynch credits their success at Hedgehog Health to his amazing team and their dedication to helping every family that comes to them: “Hiring a diagnostician and full team of individuals who are bilingual has also been a major help in the past year. You’d be surprised how much a language barrier gets in the way of individuals receiving proper medical advice/services, so to be able to have our staff speak with these families has been a huge help, and also separates us from a lot of other centers.”
When it comes to the future of Hedgehog Health, Lynch claims they’re really focusing on the initial rollout of the Hoglet, however, on a larger scale they’re “trying to connect with as many pediatric offices as possible in the US where we are currently certified, and hope to bring that certification to all 50 states soon; the certification process is mainly based on the healthcare systems in every state, as a majority of our services can be covered by insurance.”
“It’s not an easy field to be in, especially since we’re actively working against the status quo in the Autism landscape. We easily could’ve made another Autism center that provides the same helpful services as all the others in the US, but we wanted to provide something unique and new for these families that have been told the same things over and over again, and I really think we’re doing that.”
“The work we’re doing is so important. Being a teacher, but also growing up as a unique learner myself, I got to see first hand that every student is different in terms of the way they absorb information, and this is especially true for kids on the spectrum. To be able to navigate all of those different learning techniques and use that experience to create an organization that can help kids with unique learning abilities has been one of the most fulfilling experiences.”
To learn more about Hedgehog Health, the Hoglet, and the amazing work that this company provides for families and children on the Autism spectrum, click here.