Brotherly Love Sparks Innovative App for Special Needs Individuals

At only 17 years old, Johnny Ciocca has already created over 30 apps. Busy Bee is an app for tasks, reminders, and notes, Slowanella is a free game, and C3D is a 3D modeling app that allows designers to draw 3D models on their phone. But Johnny’s most successful apps focus on an issue that hits a little closer to home; how to make life better for people with special needs.

Johnny’s older brother, Christian, has Down Syndrome. His brother’s condition inspired Johnny to start creating apps that would help children and young adults with special needs to connect socially, with the ultimate goal of improving their quality of life. One such app is called you Belong.

Johnny was inspired to create the app after he and his family relocated from New Jersey to Fort Myers in Florida. “Once we moved out here, we realized there wasn’t a place to find stuff for Christian, like activities,” said the boys’ father, John Ciocca. Johnny went on to explained how difficult it was for his brother, Christian, to make connections in the new community. “He wanted to get some friends,” Johnny said. “We wanted to create a way for him to meet new people.”

Modeled after Facebook, this new app, which launched in March, has created a social network where people with disabilities and their families can connect and communicate in a safe and supportive environment. Members of youBelong can easily message each other, share photos, and promote events.

Johnny’s love for his brother and passion for enabling special needs individuals to live life to the fullest has given birth to other apps, like the hugely successful MyVoice. MyVoice is a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) that allows non-verbal children and adults to easily communicate with others even though they cannot speak. The app also has helpful features like mirror talk, which individuals can use to help with speech pathology exercises like mouth stretching.

Johnny is passionate about his work as an app developer and about his role as an advocate for the disabled. He hopes to one day produce a successful dating app for special needs individuals that will allow them to explore romantic connections, much like how youBelong has helped to create spaces for social connections.

Christian, who adores his brother, chimed in with his review of the apps, saying, “I like everything. I like to comment with my brother, because I do love my brother a lot.”

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