Autism Support Portal
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The Autism Support Portal project involves the creation of a portal site that helps users find information they need about autism. The primary goal of the project is to help users quickly find credible information for their specific need. With the amount of information available online, it can be hard for those interested in autism to find information that is not only credible but useful and updated to reflect current research. The site needs to be easy to use both for the users and for the future administrators of the site. The site also needs to help guide people towards reliable resources while potentially exposing users to new resources. To ensure that our project meets the needs of our potential users, the project was divided into different phases involving data collection, research, design, and implementation. To gather data for our project, we used resources such as the Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research and their connections, to send out anonymous surveys to some of our potential users. We asked several questions pertaining to their interests in the site, what they needed from the site, and what resources were useful to them. This data allowed us to implement a site as specific to the user needs as possible while also giving us other resources to collect credible information from. In addition, Dr. Scarpa provided a lot of other resources that allowed us to solve some of the needs of users, with other resources allowing this project to focus entirely on the implementation of our search engine and the guiding of our users towards effective answers, solutions, and resources. Upon entering the site, users have direct access to the search and are provided with search tips and external resources to help them. The site is set up entirely using WordPress.org. WordPress was chosen to be the CMS or content management system for the site because it is very easy to use and allows administrators to do a lot for the site without the need for extensive technical knowledge. The site needs to be very easy to modify and change after its initial set up so that those who work on it at the Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research can do so quickly. However, using solely WordPress and its plugins created a variety of new obstacles stemming from the different uses of different plugins. To save time and money, research needed to be done on several different plugins to find the ones that not only met the needs of the site but that were also affordable. Even with these obstacles, using WordPress not only allows for easier creation and maintenance, but also easy modification of the site if additional features are wanted or needed. The design of the site allows users to find necessary information very quickly through alphabetically sorted lists that will expose the user to terms that may have been unknown previously. One of the problems with researching autism is asking the right questions. For example, a child with a special need such as autism needs an IEP or individualized education program, which requires a specific search for an IEP. When a user explores education information, the user also needs to be shown some specifics such as IEPs. This example also serves as an example of the need to have our site easily modifiable, as a change in law or name would require someone to change the resource in the site. Using the data and implementation techniques discussed, the end result portal is composed of help and resource pages as well as a refined search that links questions to reliable answers. In addition, the site is designed such that any user without prior technical experience can use the site and adjust the sites that are searched and any other information within the site that is changed.