South Fayette School District News Article

Student Creates App for Autism Support

Click here to see the KDKA-TV Coverage on Nandana's work

Nandana Menon just wrapped up her junior year at South Fayette High School and is about to launch a revolution supporting children with autism and their parents. It all began with an idea for her Girl Scouts Gold Award, and now, thanks to the involvement of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, she has partnered with the Pittsburgh team at CGI in the development of a free app geared toward high-functioning autistic children.

The app will offer one point of view for the child and another for parents, caregivers, and or therapists. The child will experience four to five different learning modules focused on A-B-Cs, counting, and communication-based activities where autistic children tend to struggle most. Another module includes breathing exercises to help calm a child when overstimulated. For adult users, there will be a support list of credible organizations, websites, and articles recommended by staff at the University of Pittsburgh’s Autism Clinic and a growth log to show how much time the child is spending on each activity.  

“Seeing developmental delays in children and increased autism diagnoses after the COVID-19 pandemic drew me into wanting to understand more about autism,” said Menon. “It made me sad to see kids in my community not wanting to play with other kids their age and being so attached to their [smart] phones that they were having tantrums if you tried to take it off of them.” Traditionally, infants and toddlers learn to communicate through play and observation, but the wearing of masks for so many months during the pandemic has been attributed to multiple development issues in children. A dependency on electronic devices also leads to issues with eye contact, speech, and socialization.

In the spring of 2023, Menon participated in a program for high school girls interested in STEM called LAUNCH (Learn Aspire Understand Navigate Connect Highlight) sponsored by the Pittsburgh Technology Council. “I had been considering eventually pursuing a career in the medical field, but LAUNCH was really focused on engineering and introduced us to app design and different technology software. I was also reading different papers on autism and saw a common theme that there’s not really an app for children with autism that can supplement existing therapies,” said Menon.  

“I think it’s really, really difficult to find some sort of solution because everyone’s autism is completely different from one another,” she further explained. “Some children are very high functioning and others are lower functioning and require more help. Right now, I’m focusing on high functioning autism and finding something supplemental to that because I’m only a high schooler and still have so much to learn. But, as I go further into my career, I want to focus on autism as a whole and especially early intervention.” 

Identifying that with many children already hooked on their electronic devices they could be using their time online constructively, such as helping them break communication barriers, Menon shared her concerns and ideas for an app with the head of the LAUNCH program, Marie Pelloni, Senior Director of Talent and Workforce Development Initiatives at Pittsburgh Technology Council (PTC). Pelloni saw merit in Menon’s ideas and connected her with Maria Fattore with whom she works at FortyX80, the non-profit division of PTC. 

Menon said of Fattore, “She said she would talk to one or two people that she knew about my app idea, but she ended up being at a board meeting with people from CGI and other technology firms in the Pittsburgh area and mentioned it there. Bernie Mongilio was there and he really, really loved it and that’s kind of what started this whole thing.” Mongilio is Senior Vice-President of operations for CGI’s U.S. Great Lakes business unit.

Since the summer of 2023, Menon has been participating in design workshops with representatives from CGI and said, “they treat me like the project manager, like I’m in charge even though they are all adults and professionals. They show me ideas, and I get to tell them what I like and don’t like. It’s been really impactful, and I’ve learned that I really like being part of a team and in a leadership role.” She has also been working and researching with various medical professionals to make sure the content of the app follows their recommendations and guidelines. 

With the app still in the design stage, Menon received a proof of value statement earlier this year for the work from CGI. “That’s like a document with the code and designs and all of my work in it,” she explained. “I’ll be able to use it as proof that I did this when I’m applying for colleges and scholarships.”

The actual app is scheduled to launch on all platforms on September 30, 2024. “Then we’ll start focusing on different variations of it with other ideas that I’ve had,” said Menon. “I want to add an option to customize the settings to colors the child prefers. We also want to develop a feature that will allow parents to ask questions and receive answers from professionals.”

Additionally, Menon has taken the lead in building a website,, to support the app. It serves as an information hub with a more complete list of support organizations than can be included in the app. “I also want to eventually share videos of me talking with different professionals in the autism field and provide information and answers to common questions for parents,” she said. Along with the website and app development, Menon has launched an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Autism Unity Initiative (AUI).

“The app will be completely free, and the website is completely free, no one’s getting paid for this,” added Menon. "From the start, we just wanted to help people.” 

Of working with CGI, Menon said, “The team has worked so hard on it. This is something they didn’t have to do. I just had this idea, and they’re putting in so much time for me, to help people, and to inspire youth like me.”

Menon attributes some of the credit for her project to South Fayette’s commitment to STEM education. “Our school is constantly sharing great opportunities with us, and that’s how I found out about LAUNCH. I ended up doing the application so last minute – I had a paper due the day after the deadline, and I almost didn’t take the time to fill it out. Now, it’s crazy to think that if I hadn’t completed the application, none of this would have really come to life.”

More about Nandana Menon
In addition to completing the LAUNCH program, this year, Nandana was selected from more than 10,000 applications nationwide to participate in the Disney Dreamers Academy at Walt Disney World. As part of the Dreamers Class of 2024, Nandana spent four days with 99 others participating in unforgettable workshops and networking opportunities. This summer, she is one of 315 students (selected from more than 7,000 applicants) serving as a 2024 Bank of America Student Leader. With this program, she is completing an eight-week, full-time, paid internship with the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium concluding with a week in Washington, D.C. at a Student Leaders Summit. Additionally, on June 7, Nandana learned that she and a classmate, 2024 South Fayette graduate Gouri Prasanth, earned a $20,000 scholarship as winners of the 2024 CGI IT Girl Challenge. Their project, an app titled TABU to assist individuals struggling with substance abuse addiction, is independent from the autism app described in this release. In her senior year at South Fayette High School, she is serving as President of the National Honor Society (NHS), the student representative on the School Board, and facilitating the Superintendent’s Leadership Advisory Committee.

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