“Don’t Hide Your ABA”

Lessons learned from SXSW

Film, Interactive Media, and Music Conference & Festival

Written by Annie Escalante, CoFounder

Technology. Storytelling. Music. Film. Entrepreneurship.

These are conference tracks one would see at SxSW, the convergence of creators, dreamers and do-ers. Austin, Texas is the home for this innovative festival and BehaviorMe was lucky enough to be invited to pitch at their annual AR/VR pitch competition. This marks the very first time an ABA company have ever pitched at this conference. And we wanted to make sure we represented our field proudly by exemplifying the hard work and dedication we have in bettering the world, one contingency at a time.

Lesson 1: “Don’t Hide Your ABA”

On the eve of BehaviorMe’s opportunity to pitch to a crowd of Technologists, potential investors, and conference attendees, I heard a string of 4 words I thought I would never hear during one of these events:

“Don’t hide your ABA”.

This was uttered by one of our pitch coaches, Gabriella Rowe, an Educator turned CEO of a Houston-based Accelerator Program. This initial shock and surprise were due in part to a long learning history of folks asking me “wait, what’s ABA? What exactly can a Behavior Analyst do”? Over time, these questions began to shape and frame BehaviorMe’s narrative in fear of losing our audience. We started to remove the words Behavior Analysis and ABA from our pitches and decided to use more generic terminology such as Behavioral Science.

In other words, our narrative was a casualty to the effects of punishment, or the expectation of punishment, by those listening to our pitch.

Lesson 2: Rockstar Psychologists See Value in ABA

CoFounders Annie & Andy with Skip Rizzo

Later that day, I had the pleasure of attending a session led by the brilliant and charismatic “Skip” Rizzo, Ph.D in Psychology, director for the Medical Virtual Reality program out of USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, Skip is a pioneer in merging psychological treatment within a virtual reality space. From assisting veterans with PTSD using VR simulations to creating Augmented Reality simulations to assist young adults with ASD how to navigate the tricky waters of job interviews, Skip has done it all!

I couldn’t help but introduce myself to Skip after his talk and pitch BehaviorMe to him. And lo and behold, he understood, and more importantly saw value in what ABA procedures packaged within a simulation can bring to the table! This led to a wonderful conversation on the applications of virtual reality within an ABA framework, an email sharing many wonderful articles he has co-authored, and a new appreciation on multidisciplinary collaborations.

Which leads to …

Lesson 3: ABA Dissemination and multidisciplinary collaboration is still needed in the VR healthcare/education space

Not all sessions were as hopeful as Skip’s session.

During our second day of the conference, I attended a talk on different wearables that are currently being used to assist individuals with ASD within a Healthcare framework. During this talk, one of the attendees (I promise, this wasn’t me!) asked the panel if they have ever worked with Behavior Analysts or with the BACB during their product development.

Answers ranged from to a resounding “no” to folks stating their children are or have received services from a BCBA but have not collaborated with those in the field on their projects.

I wasn’t sure if I was more shocked by these answers or by the idea of another behavior analyst present in the crowd and had the guts to ask this probing question.

(if you’re reading this, please email me! We need to chat!)

These responses were disheartening as the product discussed during the panel was one that would alert parents and caregivers when an individual could potentially have a behavioral episode based on the biofeedback data gathered from a wearable placed on the user’s shirt. After the panel, the BehaviorMe team approached the panel, introduced ourselves, and shared our contact information.

Lesson learned: We have to start somewhere and dissemination of who we are and what we do is a never-ending process.

Lesson 4: Lead with ABA

Pitch day.

Blood, sweat, tears and last-minute rewriting led to a new pitch narrative. One where our CEO, Andy Chavez, “led with ABA” as part of our new approach.

Here is our new one liner:

BehaviorMe creates virtual reality software using evidence-based ABA procedures to teach kids with ASD different life skills, such as crossing the street and who to ask for help when lost.

Although we didn’t win the competition, we did learn some valuable lessons, met wonderful potential collaborators, and were given an opportunity to restructure our narrative where we lead with ABA first.


Thank you, SxSW!

Chris Medina

Posted by BehaviorMe

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