Autism redesign/deployment

Hi, I’m looking to set up a discourse forum for a community of autistic students and their parents/carers in the UK. We currently have no server and are open to either serving ourselves or outsourcing. I run another discourse forum but am not an expert on discourse and we might want to have a ‘supported’ deployment of some kind.

We want to work with the users to understand how we might adapt the look and feel of the vanilla discourse to better meet their specific needs. Also we would need our discourse branded to give it an identity. I assume this will not go beyond creating a custom stylesheet.

We may also need some custom tooling for integration of existing (or new) apps with discourse. For example, users may have a simple questionnaire app and we’d like them to be able to submit basic data and for this to automatically generate a forum post.

The project timing is under discussion but we expect it would not be until the spring. Possibly early summer.

In terms of budget, I was hoping to get an idea from you guys about how much to budget for these things. The basic pieces are:

  1. Forum setup/hosting
  2. Forum customisation/branding (theme?)
  3. Standardised, automated posting from an existing or new app (web/native?)

I get that number three is not well specified. I will have more information on this eventually. We are preparing a funding application right now and so I need to know how much to allocate and also, are there people here who are interested in such a project? We are hoping that the addition of an online place where the community can share experiences will have a positive effect.

So, what kind of cost are we looking at and are there people here who are interested?


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Hi @ggstuart

I’m a medical doctor GP-turned-developer based in the UK and run a variety of Discourse forums, primarily in the Health/Health Tech sector, so I’d be very interested in seeing if I could help you out. The main publicly open instance that I run is here: if you want to check it out. It’s mainly for open community discussion of health technology standards and development, so it’s quite techy.

I can do what you need and have integrated Discourse with other platforms, and can do Discourse plugin development if it’s needed.

Most of my other communities are private due to the customer’s wishes, but to give you an idea of who I work for: The UK Digital Health Chief Clinical Information Officer (CCIO) Network (, the CCIO equivalent in the Republic of Ireland (, the telehealth platform ( and the Great North Care Record ( among others.

More details of the full service, managed Discourse service I provide are here:

As a matter of course, I always recommend you consider getting your forum from themselves because it’s important to support the business behind the open source project. I’m aware I charge more than other Discourse providers, but I provide a very specific complete solution, UK hosted, full maintenance, with 24/7 support and community development advice.

If you’re interested please PM me for more information.



I love this idea. I know a UX designer that specialises in designing for autism (she is on the spectrum herself) and I’d be happy to introduce her if that would be helpful.


Hi Everyone,

Thanks for intro @HAWK, I’m an Australian UX writer, researcher, designer and neurodiversity SME mostly due to my lived experience as an autistic person. I was diagnosed 18 months ago at the ripe old age of 29! If you’re curious- all my talks and articles can be found on my website. It’s a mix of UX and Autism stuff. I’ve also got a book coming out early next year.

Anyway, that’s enough about me. In regards to your original post @ggstuart I can’t help you with the budgeting or the technical elements of actually setting this thing up but maybe there’s another way I can help you? If you have Autism related questions or need some feedback before launching, I could be useful. I’d like to learn more about your project and understand what you mean by students- eg are we talking about kids or adults at university? etc

Also curious to understand how you plan to create a safe environment for forum participants? Like many autistic adults, I’ve had more than my fair share of run-ins with neurotypical parents of autistic kids (especially on Twitter) who aren’t quite on board with the concept of inclusion and neurodiversity not actually being a bad thing.

I’ve met people who have trouble connecting with the idea of us embracing our quirks and accepting ourselves as we are. Some believe we need to change who we are to fit in and our value is often measured by how well we pass as ‘normal’. This is obviously quite scary because hey everyone is different in their own way and it’s all about how we support each other for those differences and work together to meet each other halfway! And when we’re free to be ourselves, we’re calmer and that’s when we get to use our super brains to develop some serious talents!

To be clear, most of the parents I have met have been incredibly inclusive and are onboard with there being nothing wrong with a different brain but the bad experiences on Twitter have affected the way I approach them. I’m always very cautious and don’t share too much until I can figure out how they feel. I’m not saying the parents are bad and they are certainly entitled to their own views and feelings but have a think about how you are going to help people feel safe to open up and share their thoughts on your forum.

Let me know if I can help in any way :slight_smile:

PS nice to meet you all!


I recently quit Twitter for many months and I am, without question, a happier person as a result. I highly recommend that approach… taking breaks is a good idea.

Part of the problem is forcing complex ideas or nuance through a 140 character (or, now 280 character) pipe is basically impossible, and if you try you will hurt yourself, and others.


Thanks for that @AshleaMcKay, its all good food for thought.

Some background on me. I am a developer/researcher at De Montfort University in the UK and a software startup (we do a dashboard for university energy saving competitions). I am usually working on a shoe string making analytics/visualisation software for energy management. So I don’t have a background in autism at all. However, I was an early adopter of discourse and have been trying to nurture a community interested in energy efficiency for a few years with mixed results.

But I am surrounded by people who do have connections with autism. My partner works for bamboozle, a local theatre company who work with young people with learning or behavioural difficulties, including kids on the autistic spectrum. The approach they take is very interesting. Some of my colleagues here are interested in the impact of the built environment, particularly university lecture rooms and study spaces, on students with differing needs. They have been working with other people like these guys who have an app which we use at the university.

So we are all getting together to create a project using collaborative technology (i.e. discourse) to build a community of some kind to see if it helps. Nothing is decided yet but the focus will likely be to look at what circumstances contribute to stress and what can be done about them. Initially in the university context. We will try to understand what aspects of our buildings and spaces are unhelpful and this should lead to improvements to university facilities. This is likely to spill over into a discussion around situations, sensitivities, awareness, resilience etc. I expect good things will emerge if we do it carefully and thoughtfully. We have an interdisciplinary team here to link the community with the university.

My personal interest is to study a few things. I’d like to look at how online communities can increase engagement to help a complex system such as a university to adapt to the needs of its users. I’m also interested in seeing how discourse might be adapted (just as a building might be adapted) to the needs of a given group. I specifically want to look at whether these adaptations are considered beneficial or detrimental by the general user. I wonder whether users who may be more sensitive than average can identify refinements which improve the experience for everyone. This applies equally to discourse and to buildings.

Creating a safe environment is likely to be a crucial point. I haven’t though that far ahead to be honest. Your question led to me making a connection with the way our university library operates. The library operates on four floors. The lowest floor is the noisiest place and as you go up the floors it becomes gradually quieter on each floor. At the top is silent studying like a traditional library. Users can traverse a kind of gradient, when a group of students becomes too loud they are asked to move downstairs, if they feel the environment is too loud then they move upstairs. The system is easy to balance in this way.

Perhaps it would be possible to create a similar setup where categories could be created as progressively ‘safer’ places (by some criteria which I have not thought about in detail). Safer spaces would be revealed gradually as a user becomes more trusted. This is probably not the same as the existing trust system.

So my focus is on specifying a useful set of activities which can be written into a funding application. The initial funding will be small but may lead to larger projects which will rely on the community and can help it to grow in influence.


WOW :grinning:

That sounds amazing and very useful- I think there’s a lot of potential there to add real value to world! I’m excited for you!!

Love this!

Absolutely! Glad to have helped spark the beginnings of that thinking :slight_smile: (sounds like my former uni library)

Best of luck and do let me know if you need anything :grinning:


Thanks, currently it’s just ideas. I’ll report back when I have more news.

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