Two years ago, Megan Holstein (then 15 years old) set out to help her mom and her brother. Megan’s youngest brother has autism and is non-verbal. Megan’s mom sometimes expressed disappointment that she could not find an app that suited a specific need for her youngest son.
Megan bought a programming book, intent on teaching herself how to program. “But I didn’t like programming, so I asked my dad if he would invest in the app I wanted to make and we hired an outside programmer,” says Holstein, who is now 17.
Holstein’s youngest brother is now 12. Their other brother, who is 15, showed some signs of autism when he was younger. Growing up with two brothers who have at times displayed various characteristics of autism has given Holstein a unique perspective as an app creator.
To date, her company, Pufferfish Apps, has created several apps for kids with special needs (including Visual Routine, Touch Talking, Emotion Cards, and Present A Choice) as well as Learn Your States, a general education app.
[Editor’s note: Because all of the apps have been released while Holstein was a minor, they have been released via iTunes under the name Proteon Software, a company owned by Holstein’s dad.]
Why Did You Found Pufferfish Apps and Create These Apps?
Megan Holstein: Well, I wanted to help my brother, but very quickly I realized that I could turn this into a business that could help lots of people.
My first app was Touch Talking, which is an inexpensive communication aid based on the PECS concept. It can help children who are learning speech and basic vocabulary words and it can assist nonverbal children with communicating their needs or wants. They simply touch a photo or drawing on the screen and the app will say the name of the item.
I also designed Emotion Cards. I found out from parent feedback on the Pufferfish Software Facebook page that parents have trouble teaching emotions to kids that don’t pick up on socials skills intuitively. So I created an app based on facial expressions. These visual cues give parents and therapists a starting point to talk about different emotions and how people can “read” emotions by watching for cues in terms of facial expression and body language. Nonverbal children can also use the app to communicate how they feel.
I also created Present A Choice. My brother has trouble filtering out sounds sometimes; the jumble of sensory input can be too much for him, especially when he is upset. At times like this, it is easier for him to comprehend visual signals and to respond to visual signals. So I created a very intuitive app that allows parents to quickly show kids their options and give them a sense of control over a situation. The app allows you to give two, three, or four choices, which are displayed in photos on the screen. For example, you could display a photo of an apple or a banana and the child can touch the one he wants for a snack. Or if a child is easily upset by running errands, you could offer a choice to go home or to go do a favorite activity, such as swinging at the park, once the errand is over.
With Visual Routine, I created an app that is essentially a task manager for kids with special needs. The app uses both photo and audio prompts to help kids with life skills and independence. For example, a morning routine might prompt a child to put on clothes, then shoes, eat breakfast, brush his teeth, grab his backpack and then go to the bus.
I’m excited about the feedback that I receive and I look forward to continuing to grow and improve these apps. My whole goal is to create fantastic, inexpensive apps that really help kids.
To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.