Special Needs: APPlied Technology

Melissa Kossler Dutton

When Megan Holstein decided to take online classes her sophomore year of high school, her dad told her she had to find an extracurricular activity.

Megan, now 17 and a senior at Dublin Coffman High School, saw the project as a way to help her family and accomplish her own goal of working in the app-development field. It became the first of many software-design projects that have shaped her teen years and helped her earn a spot in the incoming 2013 freshman class at Ohio State University.

"I've had this dream of designing software since I could walk and talk," the Dublin resident said. "I came at it from the software side."

She started working on Touch Talking, an app designed to help children with autism or special needs communicate.

The family had tried several different apps to help Jason boost his vocabulary, said Megan's mom, Valerie Holstein.

"Talking is one area where he is weakest," she explained.

Many of the apps that Jason was using were designed for toddlers. Megan and Valerie wanted an app that would have vocabulary words more suited to an older child.

"He needed more sophisticated words - things he would encounter in his day-to-day life," Valerie Holstein said.

Once Megan worked out what the app would do and how it would look and function, she realized she would not be able to write the programming to create it. Rather than get discouraged, she asked her dad to loan her $150 to hire a programmer to create the app.

Her dad didn't hesitate.

"I knew she would be successful," said Mike Holstein, who owns a software company. "She's just a goal-oriented person."

He believes Jason's autism has contributed to Megan's drive to succeed.

"Children don't get autism. Families get autism," he said. "Autism has provided the emotional fuel for this family to do things it never would have done otherwise."

After the app was finished and approved by Apple, Megan eagerly waited to see what would happen. People started buying the app and she made $130 her first month.

The success prompted her to develop other apps for children with autism, often conferring with her mother about what would be useful for Jason.

Sometimes, the apps didn't get completed until Jason had moved into another developmental phase.

"I'm always chasing Jason's needs and never quite catching it," she said. "But I know there is another child who might be six months behind him who can benefit."

Megan's apps have made a difference in Ian Brown's life, said his mother, Charly James Brown of Gaffney, S.C. It's often easier for Ian to focus on his iPad than on other people, she said.

The 7-year-old regularly relies on Megan's Emotion Cards app to express his feelings. The family also uses her Present a Choice app to help Ian communicate what he wants or needs.

"The fact that she has a sibling with autism shows in what she does," Brown said. "She gets it."