Irish teen creates app to help other autistic students practise eye contact

 (Courtesy of Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography)

(Courtesy of Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography)

The best piece of advice anyone ever gave me is: “You’re not going to get what you want unless you ask for it.”

My name is Ciara-Beth. I’m 18 years old. Growing up, I always felt I was different. When I was 14 years old, I discovered a reason for those feelings. I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. What I want hasn’t always come easily to me.

After I was diagnosed, I desperately wanted to learn more about my brain and the brains of people like me. I read every book, website and research paper on autism that I could get my hands on. I found comfort learning that I wasn’t alone in the difficulties I faced daily.

 (Courtesy of Nuacht TG4)

(Courtesy of Nuacht TG4)

One day, I stumbled across a startling statistic: 67% of employers feel lack of eye contact in a job interview is a common mistake. This statistic instantly reminded me of another fact I knew — a fact I lived every day: People with autism commonly struggle to make eye contact. Even more worrisome, I learned that only 16% of people who have an autism spectrum disorder are in full-time paid employment, while 77% of people who have autism and want to work are unemployed.

It seemed clear to me that this difficulty making eye contact had a direct impact on employment for individuals on the spectrum.
— CIARA-BETH GRIFFIN

It seemed clear to me that this difficulty making eye contact had a direct impact on employment for individuals on the spectrum. I wanted to build an app to help children with autism practise making and maintaining eye contact comfortably. When I set out to make this app, I couldn’t code. I didn’t even have a computer. I knew nothing about app development and I didn’t know anyone who did. The road ahead didn’t look easy, but I knew what I wanted to create.

 Users of MiContact click through a series of photos of faces and must match the shape in people's eyes to the corresponding shape at the bottom of the screen. (Courtesy of Ciara-Beth Griffin)

Users of MiContact click through a series of photos of faces and must match the shape in people's eyes to the corresponding shape at the bottom of the screen. (Courtesy of Ciara-Beth Griffin)

I emailed everyone I knew to ask if they knew someone willing to help. I approached multiple companies and organisations to ask them to donate hardware. I looked everywhere I could for funding to pay a developer. I heard “no” quite a bit and I had to deal with a lot of rejection. But I did eventually get what I needed.

It started with one “yes” from someone who coded the app for me. I then taught myself how to code. Now, I can grow and improve the app myself. My app MiContact is launching in app stores next year and I also have plans to expand it into an entire line of tools and resources to help people on the autism spectrum.

All it takes to become an entrepreneur is an idea, dedication and the will to ask for it. Write down all your ideas, even if they seem terrible. Learn how to take criticism. While it may not always be what you want to hear, it’s often what you need to improve your idea.

As an entrepreneur, you might want money or help with your work. As a teenager trying to learn about yourself, you might want to know you’re not alone or some advice. Whatever you want in your journey, you won’t get it unless you ask for it. The worst that can happen is someone says “no,” and you go onto ask the next person.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ciara-Beth Griffin is an 18-year-old student from Ireland. She is founder of MiContact, an app that helps children with autism practise eye contact.