Ohio State’s Megan Holstein Is Designing Software That’s Redefining Autism

While other high schoolers were getting their first jobs, Holstein was already creating Pufferfish Software.

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While other high schoolers were getting their first jobs, Holstein was already creating Pufferfish Software.

Ohio State's Megan Holstein Is Designing Software That's Redefining Autism

Easing Autism

While other high schoolers were getting their first jobs, Holstein was already creating Pufferfish Software.

By Lindsay Biondy, University of Pittsburgh


Megan Holstein is the creator of Pufferfish Software, a series of apps that aims to give autistic people independence from their parents or caregivers.

Discontented by the apps available for her severely autistic younger brother, Holstein, at age fifteen, decided that she could make a more effective and affordable app to help autistic people’s behavioral and social problems. After a surprising amount of success with her first app, she expanded her resources to increase the quality and quantity of her product.

Now a senior at Ohio State University, Holstein has not only created a total of five apps, but has also self-published a book called “Idea to App,” which teaches people the business side of developing their own app company. With a passion in both writing and app development, Holstein continues to get out into the world and do what she loves.

Ohio State's Megan Holstein Is Designing Software That's Redefining Autism
Megan Holstein (Photography via Dell Nie, Ohio State)

All my friends were getting jobs at Wendy’s and McDonald’s. But, at fifteen, I was really stubborn. I said, ‘I am not working at some fast food place.’ And my dad said, ‘You’re doing something, Megan, because you’re not just going to sit on the couch and rot.’ Then I said, ‘Fine, I’ll make an app.’”

I’m one of those people who always reads fiction and fantasy books. I always secretly wanted to be a writer. I also want to be an app developer. There’s a lot of things I want to be. I’m twenty-one; I’m still figuring it out.”

My brother Jason is sixteen, and you’d think that being so mentally challenged would keep him from having a 16-year-old’s attitude; it does not. Because I know him, I can see how the 16-year-old teenage angst comes out. For a moment, you’d think he doesn’t have a developmental disability. My mom will be like, ‘Jason! Time to eat! I made carrots!’ Then Jason makes this noise as he walks to the table, like ‘Ugh. I don’t want carrots, mom.’”

I got a bit of a name in the Columbus start-up scene for having started a company so young. Because, you know, when a high-schooler does something that only adults usually do, everyone is like, ‘Oh look, this high-schooler did this adult thing.’”

Once I released the first version of my first app, I got $150 in a paycheck the next month, and that’s a small paycheck. But I was fifteen, and I didn’t have money, so I was like, ‘Wow, free money. Dad look, free money.’ And he said, ‘Well you made the app.’ Then I said, ‘But that’s not real work. Free money. Free money.’”

People who are severely autistic get a reputation as stupid, when it’s not that they’re stupid, it’s that no messages are getting in or out. You hear everything, even the tiniest background noises, and you see every single movement in your field of vision; you can’t take your focus away from it, and it’s all distracting. It’s like being in the middle of a stadium full of people all moving and talking all the time from the second you’re born.”

I don’t really say I have autism because I know that the things I struggle with are very mild. I’ve learned to overcome seeming very awkward, but my grades are terrible because I find it emotionally exhausting to go to class all the time, and I struggle with the coursework because I don’t always understand the lectures. That’s not the popular presentation of autism.”

I’ll admit this to anyone: I love writing fanfiction. I’ve got this dream to graduate from not writing fanfiction— to writing ‘real fiction.’”

I got to college with the ability to talk professionally to people much older than me and not come off like an intern. If you look, talk and act like an adult who’s confident in themselves, people will respond to that. And the only way I know to do that is to get out there and go adulting.”

A lot of presentations of autism in the media are wildly inaccurate. Like, Sheldon from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is supposed to have autism, and he does, and some autistic people are like that, but not the majority.”

It’s really important that people get out there and do the thing they want to do. The younger, the better. Because the older you get without doing it, the more you suffer for it. I spent my whole life doing ‘the thing,’ and it’s been amazing. The best decision of my life.’”

Correction: The article originally said Holstein was a junior, when she is in fact a senior. We have fixed the mistake and regret the error.

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