We created a forum platform for siblings of individuals on the autism spectrum to connect with each other!

Product Experience

Problem Space

Problem Discovery

When you don't know how to do something, where do you go?

You might ask your friend or someone you know who's really good at what you need help with, or … you'll Google it. Nowadays, we all tend to take advantage of the fact that 99% of the time, if we Google something, we'll find it.

But that's 99% of the time. What about the 1%? It really isn't fun when you can't find what you're looking for, and for the 1 in 60 families nationwide who have to desperately scramble for information, services, and community once one of their family members receives their autism diagnosis, it starts to get really complicated.

Because when you talk to those families, almost all of them will say they barely found a group that gave them enough learning material, immediate links to services, and, most of all, a welcoming space for people going through the same experience to connect. And the last is especially true for the siblings of people on the spectrum, with most of the (still few) good solutions out there catering towards parents or those on the autism spectrum. 

Research Insights

User Pain Points and Feedback

To validate the existence of the lack of group chat platforms for siblings of individuals with autism, three potential users (who identified as neurodiverse) were interviewed. All of them shared similar insights:

  • “I’m struggling to find the right support and resources to help my sibling with autism, and sometimes I feel isolated in this journey.”
  • “I’ve encountered negative experiences in groups for autistic relatives, where autism and autistic individuals were demonized.”

After conducting user research, we realized that the problem actually went a lot deeper than we thought. What we ended up finding was that there was actually almost a complete lack of support for siblings of individuals on the autism spectrum

Most of them had to find their own ways of coping with the difficulties that come from being in their position, and could really only find general learning resources for siblings like themselves. Additionally, they didn’t have too many connections to others like themselves, and each and every one of them said that they would want a place to connect with others going through the same thing, especially for advice in times of need.

Landing on the Solution

Backed by both our own experiences and our newly found user research, we believe that a solution that can tackle the proposed problems that come from being a sibling of someone on the spectrum - and simultaneously - is by creating a community of those siblings themselves. In other words, we think that the solution to the lack of sibling-specific info, advice, and community could be the siblings themselves.

This community could serve as a place for siblings to get & provide helpful advice, a method of therapy where siblings can get things off their chests in a positive, supporting & understanding environment, and a network of people who all share similar experiences & can connect through those experiences.

This forum environment (later renamed to ‘SibChat’) would:

  1. Give siblings of those on the spectrum a chance to learn about the experiences of others & apply the successful, not-so-successful, and in-between to their journeys
  2. Provide siblings with the empathy, sympathy and/or overall understanding from others that they couldn’t get from parents, their siblings on the spectrum, or friends who haven’t been on the autism journey
  3. Help siblings find friends & make connections with other siblings who are in similar situations as them
  4. Motivate siblings to be more comfortable sharing their autism family experiences

Modeling our Solution

Based on our target users' pain points, we knew we wanted to work on the following features:

User Profiles:

  • Feature Description: Allow users to create a profile that includes information about themselves and their siblings with autism. This may include age, gender, interests, and specific details about their sibling's condition.
  • User Benefits: Users can connect with others who share similar experiences and gain insights into the diversity of the community.

Discussion Forums:

  • Feature Description: Create dedicated discussion forums covering various topics related to autism and sibling support. These forums can be organized by theme, such as "Understanding Autism," "Sibling Bonding," or "Resource Recommendations."
  • User Benefits: Users can engage in focused discussions, seek advice, and share their knowledge within specific areas of interest.

Safety and Moderation:

  • Feature Description: Implement robust safety measures and community guidelines to ensure a safe and respectful environment. This includes rules and reporting mechanisms for inappropriate content or behavior.
  • User Benefits: Users can participate in discussions without fear of harassment or harmful interactions, fostering a positive and supportive atmosphere.

Discussion Topics and Group Channels Filter:

  • Feature Description: Develop filters that allows users to easily find discussion topics and group channels that align with their specific interests or concerns. Users can apply filters based on keywords, tags, or categories.
  • User Benefits: Users can quickly discover relevant content and communities within the platform, making it easier to access the information and connections they need.

In order to evoke feelings of calmness, comfort, and safety within the platform, we carefully selected a color palette featuring various shades of blue. Blue is often associated with qualities such as tranquility, trustworthiness, and reliability, making it an ideal choice for creating a welcoming and secure online environment.

Our Design

After coming up with our solution and using our feedback to guide us to our User Story model, we created Lo-Fi & Hi-Fi designs of the proposed forum:

Lo-Fi Design:
Hi-Fi Design:

Final Figma Prototype:

Design Learnings

  • Prioritizing MVP features is essential within tight project timelines (7 weeks).
  • Continuous iterations based on user-centric design feedback is so important - user comes first!
  • Balancing project deliverables with other external commitments is critical for staying on track and meeting deadlines effectively.

Implementation Details

Our Technical Implementation section highlights the key technical aspects of our application, which is built using Next.js. This section delves into the technology stack, architecture, and development methodology employed. 

Technology Stack:

Our chat application leverages a technology stack tailored to deliver a seamless and responsive user experience. The core components of our technology stack include:

  • Next.js: As the primary JavaScript framework for building dynamic and server-rendered web applications. Next.js allows for efficient page rendering and routing.
  • React: Utilized in conjunction with Next.js for building the user interface, enabling the creation of interactive and real-time chat features.
  • Node.js: The runtime environment for server-side JavaScript execution, enabling efficient server-side rendering and WebSocket support for real-time chat updates.
  • PostgreSQL: As the relational database for storing user profiles, chat messages, and other structured data.
  • Redis: Utilized for caching frequently accessed data and managing chat room memberships.
  • NextAurh: Implementing OAuth2 and JWT (JSON Web Tokens) for secure user authentication and authorization.


Our chat application employs a microservices-based architecture to ensure scalability, modularity, and maintainability. Key architectural components include:

  • Fullstack Layer: Developed using Next.js and React, this layer handles user interfaces, rendering, user interactions, server side rendering apị routes
  • Database Layer: PostgreSQL stores user data, chat history, and other relevant information, while Redis is used for caching and managing user sessions.
  • Authentication and Authorization: Secure user authentication and authorization are achieved through OAuth2 and JWT tokens.

Development Methodology:

We follow an Agile development methodology to maintain flexibility and respond to changing requirements efficiently. Our development process includes:

  • Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD): Implementing automated testing and deployment pipelines for rapid development and release cycles
  • Test-Driven Development (TDD): Ensuring code quality and reliability through rigorous testing practices.
  • Git for Version Control: Utilizing Git for collaborative development, version control, and code management.

Security and Compliance:

Security is a paramount concern for our chat application. We employ best practices for secure coding, implement data encryption, and adhere to industry standards and regulations for user data protection.

Future Steps

For our team, there’s three main things that need to be done for the future!

First is related to the development of SibChat. For the purposes of COLAB, we had to cut down on what we could & couldn’t build, and rebuilding the current website we had in order to add the SibChat platform on top of it almost took up half of our program. So first things first, we want to fully finish building out the SibChat platform, to the point of the Hi-Fi prototype, and then up to our original planned platform.

And second, we want to try to retain everyone to continue on our nonprofit team, Autinerary; COLAB’s experience really unified our team, and we’re hoping to have everyone continue with us to perfect our current SIbChat platform. Through iterative user testing, feedback, and re-development, we want to make the SibChat platform something that siblings of individuals on the autism spectrum use regularly & enjoy using!

Finally, once the SibChat platform is “done” (at a point where we can focus on other things), we want to have everyone from our team join Autinerary on a new adventure - building a central platform for anything autism-related! We believe that SibChat was just the beginning, and hopefully, we can all stick together to build something great.


Product Manager Learnings:

Odosa Obasuyi

  • Communication Makes the Dreamwork!
  • After COLAB, I think my number one takeaway is that no matter what, communication trumps all
  • You as a PM need to figure out how to motivate & communicate with your team to get the processes going - when the going gets tough, this is what essentially defines if deadlines get met or not

Designer Learnings:

Lucy Nguyen

  • Prioritizing MVP features is essential within tight project timelines (7 weeks).
  • Continuous iterations based on user-centric design feedback is so important - user comes first!
  • Balancing project deliverables with other external commitments is critical for staying on track and meeting deadlines effectively.

Developer Learnings:

Bright Olawale

  • Over the course of COLAB, learned about working with Next.js, which was really valuable as someone who isn’t a frontend developer
  • Working as part of team was really valuable too!

Developers Learnings:

Daniel Azubuine


  • Really enjoyed working as a member of this team

Full Team Learning

  • As a team, I think we already had a can-do attitude & were willing to put in the work, but by the end of it, we truly realized that when you’re willing to put in the extra work to get your parts done, help others, and really go above & beyond, the team can really accomplish whatever they set their mind too!