Jody O’Neill is a young self-advocate attending Castletroy College in County Limerick. She has set up her own business to develop products aimed at supporting autistic individuals with sight difficulties in their self-organisation and day-to-day activities. We spoke to Jody this week at the National Student Enterprise Finals in Croke Park about her business, her ideas and ambitions for the future.

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF – WHO IS JODY O’NEILL & WHAT DO YOU DO?

I’m thirteen years old. I’ve set up a business called Help Autism Sight Difficulties, or HASD. The logo we use is three circles to symbolise different brain structures because with autism, after all, is about understanding how people think and feel differently. So, I made products to help autistic people who may have problems with their vision. I think that there’s a real gap in the market with that kind of thing.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO SET UP YOUR BUSINESS?

There’s a lot out there for autistic people who face challenges with their speech and talking with other people around them. That’s great and I’m really happy about that, but when I was researching for my business plan, I didn’t see a lot that was mainly for autistic people with sight difficulties. I have autism and sight difficulties myself and so I thought that if I set up HASD, then I could actually help somebody else out there with similar challenges but also use them for myself.

HOW DOES HASD WORK?

So, the idea behind the products is about helping autistic people with their organisation. Living with autism, I know how hard it can be for some people to keep track of so many things at once. I made each of the products in mind of this because organisation is so important for an autistic person and that we have a problem with forgetting things!

I’ve made different planners for different parts of routine. I have general to-do-lists, weekly planners and shopping lists. There are also blank sheets which can be used for any purpose the person wishes. They’re all laminated because I wanted to make their use as easy as possible for people. A lot of autistic people will use technology for their needs now and that’s great but for some they may prefer to handle regular tools.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO MAKE THESE PRODUCTS?

Well, I don’t think it was one particular product that inspired me. Actually, it was more the fact that there wasn’t a lot out there for autistic people with sight difficulties and my own personal experiences. It was myself and living with those challenges that inspired me, not one item or idea.

WHAT’S THE REACTION BEEN LIKE?

It’s been really positive. I’m very excited by it. A lot of the people who’d come to look at and buy my products don’t actually know that I’m autistic myself. They may know that I’ve sight difficulties because of my cane, but I don’t immediately say to most that I’m on the spectrum. All of the products that I use for the business are all usable by a neurotypical person. I think it’s about working to make changes in every day life that counts and encouraging people who aren’t autistic to do those.

WHICH AUTISTIC PERSON DO YOU ADMIRE THE MOST?

I would have to say there’s two people that really stand out for me there – Sia and Adam Harris. They’re inspiring to me because they show that you can go as far as you want and do wherever you want to in life. They do very different things but I love that they’re so passionate about what they do and how that shows autistic people’s interests can take them to huge places.

WHAT DOES AN UNDERSTANDING FOR AUTISM LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

I’d really like to see more support networks that are mainly for autistic children. There are those for parents too and that’s great but I think it’d be best if there were also ones for people who were on the spectrum. The same for books too – there are loads for parents and teachers on how to work with an autistic person but not a lot for the actual person on the spectrum. I believe that we should be very involved.