Mari-Jane Williams is a news design editor at The Washington Post and a regular guest contributor to the On Parenting blog. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two children, one of whom has special needs.

There are times when strangers can be more comforting than your closest friends.

In the case of parents of children with special needs, well-meaning friends might say the wrong thing (top of my list would be “I’m sorry”), or try to offer advice that might work just fine for a neurotypical child but is not right for a child with autism.

So we find ourselves relying on the kindness of strangers. People we don’t know but who understand the out-of-nowhere meltdowns in the grocery store or how difficult something as simple as a haircut can be. The ones who really get it because they are parenting a child on the spectrum.

Now there is a social networking site that aims to connect parents of children with autism, to share resources, advice or even support and empathy., a site started by founder and chief executive Eric Peacock in San Francisco, began in June with 30 parents. It launched from beta Dec. 6, and as of Dec. 8, it had 13,379 members.

Peacock, who has a nephew on the autism spectrum, said his intention was to create a place where people could connect with other parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. He wanted to give parents a place to get information about specialists, medical professionals and others in the community, such as barbers or swim teachers, who were autism-friendly.

“It should be easy when you or a loved one are diagnosed to find the people to help you,” Peacock said. “The thought came up, why don’t we do something like this for the autism community? A kind of combination of Yelp and Facebook, to make it easy to find parents who have been in your shoes and to find great providers.”

Peacock contacted the advocacy group Autism Speaks and they offered to share their database of service providers with his site when it launched. As the site has grown, it has morphed into more than a list of providers. It has become a place where parents can go to vent, or to celebrate a child’s victory.

Emily Ybarra, of Orem, Utah, whose son Cruise, 4, has autism, joined the site in September after clicking on an ad in Facebook. She was looking for a dentist for her son. She found the dentist, and a network of supportive new “friends.” She says she visits the site at least twice a day.

“If I’m having a particularly difficult day with my son, the only place I can really vent is on that Web site because everyone knows what I’m going through,” said Ybarra. “On Facebook the majority of my friends don’t have kids on the spectrum, so if I start complaining about something I get all kinds of unsolicited advice from people who have no idea what I’m going through. You get to the point where you don’t want to share that kind of thing on Facebook.”

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