WESTFIELD, NJ — It isn’t easy to find professional providers for kids with special needs, Westfield mom Leslie Crowe soon learned after her now 14-year-old son Jack was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age three.

“Especially when he was young,” said Crowe. “We were living in Brooklyn and there was just no central place to turn to as a resource.”  

With the goal of helping other parents of children with special needs avoid having to navigate the same maze that Crowe had to pick her way through, she developed the website NeedQuest.com. Her site officially launched in April.

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NeedQuest is an online local search directory that directly connects parents of children with special needs in the greater Westfield area with reputable service providers located nearby. Crowe knows firsthand how important it is to find the right resources in a timely fashion. In her case, it took four months before they could find an appropriate Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT) to help Jack in school. Then locating an appropriate school for Jack took another three years.

Over time, as Jack grew, so did his needs. From therapy to after-school programs, summer camps and more, Crowe found that that there was no easy way to synthesize so much information in so many different places.

“I know there are a lot of special needs parents looking for resources for their children,” Crowe said. “However, I could not fathom that there wasn’t a more efficient tool to navigate the internet while searching for local providers to meet our children’s needs. Eventually, after years of personal frustration, in 2015 I founded NeedQuest.com and committed myself to filling this void for the special needs community.”

The number of children nationally, as well as in New Jersey, in need of special services continues to rise. According to the 2012 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs (NSCSN), nearly 14 percent of children under 18 years of age in the United States, or approximately 10.2 million children overall, were estimated to have special health care needs.

New Jersey ranked the highest in the country, with an estimated 12 percent of overall students ages 6 to 21 receiving special education services, according to  DisabilityCompendium.org.

“Parents are looking for services and providers at a time in their lives when they have the least amount of energy,” said Crowe. “With NeedQuest, we’re aiming to be a catalyst for change when it comes to northern New Jersey special needs search. And, hopefully, we’ll make everyone’s life — both parents and providers — a little easier.”

Currently NeedQuest has more than 30 local providers and 100+ parents on its website. (Parents can join and search for free.) Users can choose from categories of special needs service providers including therapists, schools, camps and doctors, in addition to a variety of educational and recreational programs.

“We are proud to be one of the first to support Leslie —who is also a Newmark Parent — in this endeavor,” said Cindy Allman, executive director of Newmark Education.

For Crowe, this is the just the beginning of vast untapped world that she hopes to open up for those desperately seeking information.

“I’m still growing and learning with NeedQuest,” said Crowe. “As the provider list grows, so does our local audience which, by sharing their experiences with providers on the site, helps other parents make informed decisions.”

Crowe’s goal is to eventually expand NeedQuest to other municipalities and counties in New Jersey, as well as the tri-state area.”

A frequent contributor to TAP into Westfield, Mike Cohen is the founder/director of Throwback Sports (a sports program for children of all abilities) and the sports editor of Education Update. He can be reached at throwbacksports@verizon.net