#751: Virtual Skills Training for Autism Spectrum Disorder Using Applied Behavioral Analysis with BehaviorMe

annie-escalanteBehaviorMe is using virtual reality to enhance behavior therapy for children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It’s started by four people including two therapy practioners with fifteen years of experience working with clients diagnosed with ASD as well as two recent graduates studying behavioral analytics. They’re using the Oculus Go to do virtual skills training using evidenced-based Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) techniques within safe virtual environments that include fire drills, crossing the street, being lost at a park, and waiting in lines. They’re also creating experiences to help train the staff who will be working with people diagnosed with ASD.

andy-chavez2I had a chance to talk with co-founders Annie Escalante and Andy Chávez at the SXSW Festival after they had participated in the XR start-up pitch competition where we talked about their journey of starting BehaviorMe, and how they’re using behavioral analysis for virtual skills training. They building a future where you’ll eventually be able to create training scenarios to be able to help children learn social skills or in other areas where they have a deficit.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So it's Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019, and it's World Autism Awareness Day. And when I was at South by Southwest, I actually had a chance to talk to a company called BehaviorMe, and they're working on some VR experiences in order to train different skills with people who are on the autism spectrum. So I had a chance to talk to Annie Escalante and Andy Chavez. They're co-founders of BehaviorMe. And they're doing these different evidence-based ABA practices. That's Applied Behavior Analysis. So they're using the VR technology in order to gather all this quantified information about the behavior and then be able to slowly train and cultivate specific skills that are in situations that may be too dangerous to be going out and doing in the real life. So I had a chance to talk to them about their experiences that they're creating with BehaviorMe and some of the science that they're using to back it up, as well as where they're going in the future and how they can use virtual reality technologies in order to help train and cultivate different skills for people who are on the autism spectrum. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Annie and Andy happened on Tuesday, March 12th, 2019 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:31.645] Annie Escalante: So my name is Annie Escalante.

[00:01:33.987] Andy Chavez: My name is Andy Chavez and we do behavior me.

[00:01:37.976] Annie Escalante: And BehaviorMe is a virtual reality software that uses evidence-based ABA practices to teach kids with autism basic life skills, such as how to cross the street, what to do if you're lost in a park setting, and also how to exit a building if there's a fire or another emergency.

[00:01:54.516] Kent Bye: Can you talk a bit about how this project came about?

[00:01:57.410] Annie Escalante: Sure, so there's four co-founders in our group, in our team, and two of the co-founders have been working within the field of behavior analysis, helping kids and adults with autism for, gosh, I think a combined total of 15 years, myself of 10 of those years. And we've seen that there's a specific need when it comes to teaching individuals these specific life skills. Right now, a lot of the different methods to teach these skills are kind of stuck in this... retro 90s way of teaching these skills. So like video modeling and just telling one another different social stories. And so we saw that there was a way to teach these skills in an appropriate manner where you're able to repeat the skill over and over and over again in a safe setting. So virtual reality was our method.

[00:02:39.123] Andy Chavez: We can control for amount of variables as, you know, we're speaking to the choir here, but you can control for so many different things. Like in one simulation alone, we have like a combination of like 1400 different possible scenarios that you can do. So in terms of like how we met and how it started, we met through the University of Florida. Like two of the co-founders had a class, myself and Chris, and he was pitching something about behavior analysis and using behavior analysis for social anxiety. And then all of a sudden this devolved into behavior analysis, ABA, virtual reality, kids with autism.

[00:03:07.189] Kent Bye: Great, yeah, so maybe you could talk a bit about how this happens now and how it's changing with VR.

[00:03:13.432] Annie Escalante: So right now, the way that we teach these sort of skills are it's a different pathway. So either the video modeling I mentioned earlier or just talking about it, the social stories. Or you take the individual out into the in vivo setting, so an actual crosswalk, an actual park. And that can be potentially dangerous. So a lot of the folks that we serve may have other complicated behaviors that we also have to be mindful of, such as elopement, so running away, or aggression. So in order for us to be able to teach these skills in a safe manner using virtual reality, that kind of allowed us to be able to repeat the skills over and over again in that safe setting, which is so valuable and we're not able to necessarily do all the time in Viva.

[00:03:51.615] Andy Chavez: So to elaborate, storytelling is literally just that. Like I'm telling a child a story about another kid crossing a crosswalk or video modeling is showing the child a video of another child crossing a crosswalk. There's no active engagement there whatsoever by the child. So we have to give them a space to fail. And virtual reality absolutely gives you that space to fail. And not only that, we can identify where they failed. And we can go back, and we can branch those decisions out more and make it easier and more salient for them to understand.

[00:04:21.431] Kent Bye: So have you been able to build something out and actually try it out yet?

[00:04:26.582] Annie Escalante: Yeah, so we're actually selling the product at the moment. We're in 24 different clinics from the States, Canada and also China. And yeah, we have the different product lines that we had mentioned earlier. So those specific skill sets and we're also developing to create a TSA line as well. So it's very anxiety ridden to go into a TSA line and imagine that for someone with a disability. So we're targeting that too. And we also have another vertical where we're targeting staff training. So training the trainer.

[00:04:53.592] Andy Chavez: So yeah, we have a product, we also have our own research going on as well. So we're actually presenting research in May in Chicago at the International Behavioral Assets Conference. So that's gonna be really, really neat. Because a lot of this is also does it work, right? A lot of our users, our customers, our sort of tribe asks us, is it gonna work, right? So the early adopters and innovators have adopted it, like they don't care, they see the value in it. But then you get, you know, the further down the curve you get, the more and more questions are going to be asked. But, you know, generally speaking, I think we wouldn't be here if we didn't think VR was going to be a thing, right? So, yeah.

[00:05:28.510] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you can describe to me a little bit of what actually happens in one of these experiences.

[00:05:33.207] Annie Escalante: Sure, so initially you'll have a screen where the therapist will be able to select for the different conditions that they'd want to expose the individual to. So say day or night, what sort of prompting hierarchy is going to be used, what sort of stimuli are going to be more salient than others, and then you'd have the individual actually place the headset on and go through the simulation. So say if they are in a failed condition, that's when therapists will be able to discuss with the clients, well, this is what we should do next time. And then you're able to replicate the simulation over and over and over again to make sure that the individuals are actually learning that specific skill set.

[00:06:05.844] Kent Bye: And in terms of the behavioral analytics, like how are you able to quantify these different qualitative movements and turn it into a number that you can maybe take action on?

[00:06:14.494] Andy Chavez: Well, I'd actually push back and say that those movements are actually quantitative, right? So how often did a child look left? How often did they look right? For how long? So all those are kind of like their steps we call task analysis of a specific skill set, right? So if we can time that, right, essentially it's an IRT, right? So interval response time, the interval response time between a presented stimuli, right? So look left, look right, look left, right? And we can shorten these IRTs up. That's some sort of skill of mastery, right? So we actually can, and the field of behavior analysis would argue that a lot of this behavior, human behavior is quantifiable. Like from like, I'm here scratching my head, right? Like I'm scratching my head. How many times am I scratching my head and why am I scratching my head? Right? It's like, what's the antecedent to that? Or how many times am I blinking? Right? Like all that stuff is measurable. It's so crazy.

[00:07:01.896] Kent Bye: And so as you are capturing all this quantified information that previously wasn't there before, are you able to almost like turn it into a video game where you can break it down by step by step and be able to build these blocks of core competency and skills that you're able to then aggregate into things that would be otherwise completely impossible?

[00:07:20.661] Annie Escalante: Yeah, that's a great question. So on the front end it may appear to be like a video game of sorts where it looks fun and exciting and what have you, but on the back end we are infusing those interventions and procedures that will allow for that individual to learn that specific skill set all in a systematic manner.

[00:07:37.523] Andy Chavez: There is a gamifiable aspect to it, though, which entices the individual to want to do this, right? Those gamifiable aspects also lay in the realm of reality, too. So, like, why is a kid going to cross the street? There's a reason why. Maybe they want to get to the ice cream truck. Maybe they want to go to the candy store. Maybe as a kid ages, maybe they need to go to work, right? Well, part-time job. Something like that, right? But we can reinforce that by actual natural reinforcers, like an ice cream truck, for example, instead of a like token, like you're not going to get a token in real life. You're going to go to that ice cream truck in real life.

[00:08:15.187] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as I've gone to academic conferences like the IEEE VR, studying the overlap between how VR could be used for children and adults with autism, there seem to be specific things about the certain qualities of what it means to be on the autistic spectrum. And so how do you describe or break down those component parts of what does it mean to be on the autistic spectrum, and how does the virtual reality technologies be able to mitigate that in any specific way?

[00:08:41.653] Andy Chavez: That's a lot to unfold, I think.

[00:08:42.953] Annie Escalante: That is a lot to unfold. OK, so the DSM-5, which is the diagnostic criteria that we use to diagnose someone with a disability, states that ASD, or autism spectrum disorder, there's specific core deficits. One being social, so the ability to engage in a meaningful manner with individuals in a social setting. There's also language component as well. So being able to communicate in a verbal or vocal manner is something else that's targeted a lot in the therapies that we provide. So those are some of the things that we do. Also repetitive behavior, so you might see certain behaviors done over and over and over again. Say like hand flapping and things of that nature, those are some of the things that we also target in the therapy as well. And imagine doing a simulation to help and assist folks with autism, social skills, like how to engage socially in specific environments such as a conference or say going to a coffee shop or what have you. Very specific things that we sometimes take for granted, like how to wait in line, how to ask someone at a coffee shop I want a latte. That can be pretty difficult.

[00:09:42.957] Andy Chavez: And these are lines of research that people are wanting to research too. So we get a lot of folks reaching out to us from institutions, from universities wanting to develop something for that because this is their pain point, right? Like they have a population of 17, 18 year olds are about to age out of that quote unquote child phase and they're going to become adults. What are they going to do now? Right. How are they going to live life? Right. And I think that's part of what the Dan Marino Foundation and Vida has done along with Skip Rizzo. And they've done a really good job doing that. But then I think behavior me targets a much younger age range, right? From basic life skills to independent skills, to more leisure skills.

[00:10:23.144] Kent Bye: Do you think that in the future that people will be able to incrementally improve on these different things that would normally be diagnosing them with to be on the autistic spectrum disorder? Do you feel like this would in some ways perhaps cure some of those underlying patterns or you feel like that there's like an underlying character of this disorder?

[00:10:41.268] Andy Chavez: I think yes, and that's like a very 30,000 foot view of what our vision is. I think curing might be a little too encompassing. I think because it's a spectrum, because every child and young adult has like a very specific need, I think each one is going to require something a little different. And I think The versatility in being able to turn on and off or even gradiate some of these aspects of virtual reality is going to be hugely beneficial for them. Yeah, for sure.

[00:11:14.962] Annie Escalante: That was such a perfect answer.

[00:11:19.506] Kent Bye: So is this product something that has to be approved by the FDA in some way?

[00:11:23.107] Andy Chavez: No, it doesn't have to be approved by the FDA. No. Why not? Because it's not necessarily a medical device. It's funny. We were actually talking about this with our previous meeting. We straddle between health tech and ed tech. So it's not necessarily, no, it's not an FDA approval process.

[00:11:39.896] Kent Bye: But I imagine that there's going to be from the community wanting to do these double-blind studies and really prove it out. So is that something that's underway in terms of the research to be able to see the impact of this?

[00:11:51.066] Andy Chavez: Yeah, absolutely. So one of our co-founders, Andrea Villegas, she's also a third year doctoral student at the University of Florida, and she's folding some of our software into her research as well. So, yeah, I don't know. Absolutely. And not only them, but there's other researchers, other doctoral students that we've collaborated with or have reached out to us who want to study this. But like it can get super, super nuanced, too. Like they can study the mechanics of virtual reality. And what does the trigger mean versus like going into generalization and like being able to like grasp something, right? Because there is that gap right now in virtual reality in terms of haptics. But yeah, no, there's going to be research being published on this for sure. First from us, hopefully, but then there's a whole line of researchers that are looking into this.

[00:12:38.903] Annie Escalante: Yeah, there's a lot of third-party organizations that have reached out to want to collaborate and see how they can use our product with their different PhD dissertations and what have you, and we're really excited for those sort of collaborations because as a field who's so solely focused on the science, it would make a lot of sense that we're able to show the efficacy of the nature of the product.

[00:12:56.727] Andy Chavez: I'd say the industry is very thirsty for this type of research and very open. I think generally speaking, they probably won't say it openly and publicly, they think it's going to be beneficial, but obviously they're going to wait for the literature to come out. So, you know, the technology adoption curve is going to look something like the researchers are going to come in towards like the late adopters and a little bit of the laggards. There's going to be ultimately people will never adopt it and that's okay. I still see people with flip phones, so.

[00:13:23.094] Kent Bye: Is this something that you could use Oculus Go to be able to put the content out on or do you feel like you need the sixth off hand interactions from either the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive or soon to be coming out the Oculus Quest?

[00:13:35.300] Annie Escalante: So that's a really good question. So right now, we're deploying solely on the Oculus Go. But we're very excited for the Oculus Quest. So one of the things that the Oculus Quest would be able to provide is that six degrees of freedom, which would allow for folks to be able to navigate truly within the simulation and also assist with nausea. So we're hoping that we can go down that path. But right now, we're focusing on the Oculus Go. And we're also deploying it on WebGL for those individuals who may not be too keen to having a headset on their head, which is fair. So we try to meet our clients where they're at.

[00:14:04.632] Andy Chavez: Yeah, so the greatest part of our journey so far has been, one of the greater parts is that we're not solely in charge of is when the Oculus Go came out, right? So when we first started this, people were like, they were asking us, how much does the Rift cost? How much does the Vive cost? What else do I need? And we would tell them the price range, and they were just like flat out, I don't have a budget for that, right? But then the Oculus Go comes out. Sure, you're leaving the six off out, but at a $200 price range, I mean, we're disseminating virtual reality to a whole other industry that's just pen and paper, right? So the Oculus Go is a perfect, perfect, perfect, I think, introductory hardware to all these folks. And we're already telling them, like, hey, this is great, but wait until the Quest comes out, right? And I'm sure there's going to be its competitors with HTC and whatnot, but the main goal here is accessibility through price. And I think six off at some point. Yeah, we're definitely talking about that by middle of end of this year, for sure.

[00:15:01.670] Kent Bye: I'm wondering if you could talk a bit about eye contact and looking at people in the eyes. It seems to be something that is part of the autism spectrum disorder and how eye tracking technology could help track those eyes, but also how would you cultivate and build that skill of eye contact?

[00:15:17.788] Annie Escalante: Yeah, that's a really good point. So eye contact is so difficult for some of the folks on the spectrum. And if we're able to incorporate some eye tracking stimuli within the simulation to make it a bit more salient, like look here versus say somewhere else around the person's head. that would make the simulation so valuable. Imagine if we're able to create a simulation to increase social skills in an individual and you're teaching them, well this is where you're supposed to look and I'm putting my hands around my eyes and it would be unbelievably valuable. Imagine having a conversation with someone on the spectrum and they're slowly learning and acquiring and having this behavior shaped over time. I think that would be something that would be so relevant and I think would be a game changer when it comes to different simulations for folks with autism.

[00:15:59.129] Andy Chavez: I think there's some ways of doing it now with the technology that we have that's accessible. But in terms of eye tracking technology, we haven't really dived into that. Yeah, we just haven't really dived into that.

[00:16:09.557] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's little kits that you can add, but it's so expensive. And I think it's still really early days. But I feel like there's something about that in the future that could be very powerful in terms of once it's sort of integrated into the headset, then all the other stuff that you could do with that.

[00:16:21.667] Andy Chavez: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, we can't wait for that to become more. Really, the key here is to have it become more consumer friendly. That's at the end of the day, because you can hack anything together, right? You can piece anything together and it can kind of work. But how are we going to get therapist A, B and C to just purchase this and run it like right out of the box? Like, it's a learning process, right? So, and you know, VR is still like a scary thing for a lot of people. I mean, we try to demystify virtual reality as much as possible. So we offer webinars to therapists, and they can come in for an hour, typically on the weekend. They get continuing education credits, and we tell them, well, this is what virtual reality is. This is what augmented reality is. This is what you can do with this, right? But really sort of teaching them what the technology is, because there is a bit of a learning curve there. But yeah, we try to facilitate that as much as possible.

[00:17:11.406] Kent Bye: And I'm curious to hear from you some of the anecdotal stories of the impact that you've seen on some of these children who are on the autism spectrum disorder. Since you've done a lot of work with this population for the last decade, how have you seen the VR has shifted things for you and the families that are dealing with this disorder?

[00:17:29.483] Annie Escalante: Sure. Um, so one of the kiddos that we serve, he's this 13 year old kiddo from Miami, Florida, who is on the spectrum and dad, the dad in the situation, um, he would report to us how the kiddo was not able to attend to the relevant stimuli. that show you when to cross or where to cross as well. And what was interesting was that once the kiddo was actually able to use our simulation, because he loves tech, he was able to adapt pretty quickly to the synths. He was able to use the headset very well, the controller very well, and we were able to speak to dad a few weeks later, and he was able to tell us that he was actually able to maintain the skill, generalize it into the actual in vivo scenario, and he actually would stop his dad and tell him, Dad, we gotta look left, right, left again, which is so neat. So I think it's those little moments where you get that social validity from the parents. Like, hey, this is actually effective, and it actually has made a difference in this kiddo's life. So we are actually very excited to hear more and more stories like that from our clients.

[00:18:26.198] Kent Bye: And what are you showing me here?

[00:18:28.739] Andy Chavez: We're showing you a video of that same kid going through the simulation. So right there, he's actually going through Stranger Danger. But he went through Crosswalk, and I believe he went through Fire Troll as well. Yeah. And this took maybe 10 minutes.

[00:18:42.060] Kent Bye: So you're streaming what he's looking at, so you can be able to have a little bit more feedback. Because in the Go, you can't actually see by default what they're seeing, but you're able to stream that off to a phone to see what they're looking at.

[00:18:50.368] Andy Chavez: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's being casted. But we actually made our own executable for laptops, where you can control the simulation from your laptop onto the Oculus Go. Because it facilitates just the therapist to be able to do that while the kid is just walking around in the headquarters, what we call headquarters. They can just walk around, play, blah, blah, blah. And then when the simulation starts, boom, it just casts onto their headset. So they can go in and the therapist can see what's happening.

[00:19:17.104] Kent Bye: Does the Oculus let you just put on the headset and go straight to your app? Or do you have to navigate through the application and start it up?

[00:19:23.428] Andy Chavez: Uh, no. Uh, so it's not publicly available, like it's do invite only right now. And yeah, actually Oculus has been able to, we've been able to do that. Yeah.

[00:19:33.090] Kent Bye: OK, that's great, yeah, because it's just part of the trying to lower the friction as much as possible. I know that I've seen some stuff here at the festival where people would kind of double click the button, and then it would kick off. But to not have to start the experience by clicking, I mean, it's sort of very kludgy the way that it's by default. But I feel like stuff like that's going to make it better.

[00:19:50.118] Andy Chavez: Oh, yeah, for sure. Something like double tap something, and boom, you're in it. Yeah, absolutely. Especially if the device is only going to be used for something like this, right? It just makes a lot of sense.

[00:20:00.246] Kent Bye: Great. So what are some of the either biggest open questions you're trying to answer or biggest problems that you're trying to solve?

[00:20:06.711] Andy Chavez: I think a lot, just from being here at South by Southwest, I feel like a lot of companies, big companies too, are kind of struggling with the, not struggling, but everyone's working towards this. And it's being able to gather up all the data that's being collected, behavioral data that's being collected within the simulations and rendering and outputting it in such a way that's going to be usable for, in our case, for therapists. Right? We've tried it in the past, but unfortunately just the way that it rendered just wouldn't make any sense and wouldn't be of value. We need to make that data valuable to people, right? Because that's going to increase the value of virtual reality as a whole, right? If I can really track, you know, your IRT, your duration, your frequency, all that type of stuff within a virtual reality environment, then all of a sudden that information informs my behavioral intervention plans as a therapist, which also informs the insurance companies how well that child is doing. Right. So it's super valuable data all the way up the stream of stakeholders. I think that's, that's our biggest, probably, I think, feel like that's everyone's biggest hurdle right now. Yeah.

[00:21:10.435] Annie Escalante: That's been like the common thread throughout all these different talks that we've been going to here at Southwest Southwest. It's just a lot of folks are trying to figure out a platform that would make the most sense where we're able to create graphs or data analytics that are actually meaningful to both the parents, the insurance companies, and also the therapists.

[00:21:26.896] Andy Chavez: So we're working with a company based out of San Mateo Observer in implementing their SDK onto our simulations currently. But yeah, we'll let you know.

[00:21:35.738] Kent Bye: We'll let you know how that goes. But it's also spatialized data. I mean, it has information that has 3D coordinates in some ways. And so being able to actually visualize that in a spatial environment, we often think about the analytics on a 2D screen. But just to think about the data visualization type of things you can do within VR as a medium itself, I think there's a lot of potential there as well that could be solving some of those problems.

[00:21:55.643] Andy Chavez: Yeah, yeah. I mean, as you were just saying that, my mind just went to how this data can be presented in three-dimensional format, like heat maps of where they're looking or where they're walking. Yeah, yeah, very cool.

[00:22:09.968] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality is, and what it might be able to enable?

[00:22:18.492] Andy Chavez: Wow. So in terms of virtual reality with this population, we always sort of pitch it this way, and it's that 10, 15 years down the line, you're going to be able to grab a headset, right? They're going to be so different than what we're working with today, hopefully. And you can literally just grab the skill set that your child has some sort of deficit in, download an app, and whether that's street crossing in Hong Kong or in London or in Austin, it's just a click away, right? And you'll be able to literally just do this with your child. Because of all this data that's been collected, the machine can essentially dictate what will be the best scenario for the child so they can learn most optimally for that skill set. That's sort of the grand vision for us. It's a scary vision for some, but I think it's a really interesting vision for the future.

[00:23:09.312] Kent Bye: Just a quick follow-up on that. Is the Oculus Go being sent into the home, and so the parents are working with the child each day, or is it just with the physician right now?

[00:23:16.849] Andy Chavez: Just for the therapist right now, yeah, because we just have to maintain a quality of service and care that's only attained through the therapist at the moment. Ultimately, though, ultimately, let's say, you know, a child goes to the center for therapy and they're going through module A, B and C. Well, the therapist can maybe assign module D as a homework. So it's also an extension of therapy. And all that information can be sent back to the therapist in real time. And they can say, oh, well, the child was able to do module D at 70% efficiency. Let's go check out the data and see why they weren't able to do it. And next time he comes into the center, we can address it.

[00:23:52.707] Kent Bye: What about you? What do you think the ultimate potential of VR is? And what it might be able to enable?

[00:23:57.980] Annie Escalante: I think Andy said it so beautifully and so eloquently, but I do foresee, and this is going to sound kind of silly, but something similar to what he had said, think of like the Matrix, like learning Kung Fu in just a few seconds, but imagine something a bit more meaningful, like learning how to cross the street or learning how to engage with folks in a social manner that's pretty difficult to replicate in a good and functional way. In vivo, we can do so in virtual reality, and that to me is going to be fantastic and lovely.

[00:24:24.792] Andy Chavez: Stepping outside of our realm, the potential for storytelling and virtual reality is insane. Like the other day, I'm going to tell you a story I had at the airport the other day. I was waiting for my flight to Austin, and I had my headset in my book, and I'm like, fine, let's play it. So it's in San Francisco. I was in Terminal 1, super, super dingy terminal. And I put on my headset, and I start watching this BBC dragon story. And I was in there for maybe like seven minutes and I took my headset off and it was an amazing story. The visuals were gorgeous. I take my headset off and I'm at a terminal, a gray, dreary terminal about to grab a red eye. And I told myself, I fear for reality, because the amount of storytelling capability that you can have here is just insane, insane, insane. So yeah, that was truly a moment for me that I'm probably going to write a blog about, because it was one of those moments.

[00:25:21.124] Kent Bye: Yeah. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the Immersive community?

[00:25:27.184] Andy Chavez: Yeah. I mean, you can follow us at Behave4Me. We're super active on Instagram, behavior underscore me. And in terms of just the, you know, the immersive community, you know, I would say look at the world around you and look at how, how much more virtual reality can probably help. Right? I think autism is just the tip of the iceberg. I think there's so much more both in enterprise and training and health and education. We might not be addressing, right? There's some unknowns out there that we just haven't thought about, I think. So it's more than just entertainment right now. Yeah.

[00:26:02.072] Annie Escalante: Yeah, the ability to teach folks in a safe manner over and over and over again is just so valuable. And if we're able to harness that in such a way that we're able to quantify it and show progress, gosh, that's everything. And I hope we are able to attain that with our simulations.

[00:26:21.956] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. So thank you.

[00:26:24.716] Andy Chavez: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Yeah, seriously. Thank you again.

[00:26:29.770] Kent Bye: So that was Annie Escalante and Andy Chavez. They are co-founders of BehaviorMe. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, just the fact that there's been so much research that's been going on for many decades on the use of virtual reality technologies for people who are on the autism spectrum. Skip Rizzo for USC has done a lot of work. I know that there's just been generally a lot of work that's been happening in the research community, kind of proving out that this is an effective intervention for people who are on the autism spectrum. So they're using these evidence-based ABA practices, these are the Applied Behavior Analysis, and so they're able to create these very specific contexts and be able to, in some ways, create these gamified elements to be able to slowly train and teach these different skills for people who are on the autism spectrum. And to put them in these situations and contexts where it may be too dangerous to have them learn these out in the real world, crossing the street is an example. And one of the things that Andy said is that a lot of the existing techniques, there's no active engagement. And so if you're having them watch a story or having them just watch a video of someone doing it, there's no opportunity for them to express their own agency and to be able to make mistakes because a lot of the way that you learn is to be able to fail. In some of these situations, the stakes for failing are too high, and so you have to create a context that's a safe space for them to be able to fail. The other thing is just that how VR as a technology platform is going to be able to gather all sorts of different information about our behavior. Now, I think this is one of the areas where there's so many amazing applications of virtual reality to be able to have these medical applications, specifically in this context of working with people who are on the autism spectrum. But then there's the other side, which is that some of this behavioral information could actually be very intimate data that is private biometric data that we have to make informed decisions about where that data is going, who's controlling it, and what's it being able to do. So there's a lot of privacy implications with a lot of this type of behavioral analysis. And is it meant to be able to help with raising our own self-awareness and education, to be able to be more fully integrated into the world, or to map our psychographic data to be able to then create these predictive models of our behavior? And the line between prediction and control can start to get blurred a little bit, depending on who has that data and what the specific context is. In this case, it's a medical context. And so I feel fairly safe and certain that there's the best interest for everybody in mind to be able to use this data and be able to advance people's abilities to cultivate these very specific social skills and communication skills and all the things that are difficult to train in real life because you can't control all the very different variables that are involved and start to add and subtract the different aspects of these different scenarios. They said they have at this point over like 1400 different scenarios, and that's just because they're able to modulate and tune and create these different combinations of all these different primary elements. So I think that's sort of the broader context is that this type of applied behavioral analysis has a lot of amazing applications for medical field, but there's also a lot of other people that are looking at other applications. And I think that the quantified self and being able to actually generate your own sense of self-awareness, I think generally it's true that a lot of these types of innovations happen with these marginalized communities where they're neurodivergent or they have this sense of neurodiversity. But some of these skills and experiences that are being generated for these neurodiverse audiences, I think will eventually start to have these very specific applications for people who are neurotypical. And I think it's actually a huge open question as to whether or not some of these VR therapies and technologies will be able to train up to the point where they can interface with the outside world but I think there's also still a lot of value in those types of neurodiverse mindsets that I think will actually give way more insights and specific skills and things that it's not about like just trying to eliminate that neurodiversity but just trying to create a context so that they can operate and survive in the world. You know, like they said, it's a spectrum. And so there's actually a huge wide range of people that are at different levels on that spectrum. And yeah, I think the approach that they're taking is just trying to find different ways that they could use the VR technology to be able to address some of these very specific challenges that this population may be facing in their lives. And I think, you know, at the end of the day, I think it's going to increase the quality of life and living for a lot of these people who are creating new opportunities to discover how to teach and train some of these different life skills to them. And finally, I think it's interesting to see how the Oculus Go has completely revolutionized a business like this. I mean, I don't know if they would have been able to get to the point where they're at now without having an affordable and accessible platform to be able to do these types of VR experiences. I can't emphasize enough how much the medical and enterprise communities are going to be bootstrapping the overall immersive industry because there's just so many compelling applications like this where for just a few hundred dollars they'll be able to have access to all these amazing virtual reality technologies and Once the Oculus Quest comes out, and soon with the HTC Cosmos, and I'm sure other headsets as well, the Lenovo Mirage that also is using the Daydream, these are platforms that have these head-mounted displays where you're able to get this immersive VR experience. that is at the same level as a Six Degree of Freedom, Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive. And you don't need to have like the high degree of graphics to be able to show enough of the simple scenes to get a sense of presence that they're in this context and they're able to learn and train these different life skills. And so I'm personally excited to see what happens with the Quest and to see more of these different types of companies like BehaviorMe that are going to be able to take these affordable and accessible mobile VR platforms and be able to build on top of that these types of applications. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And I rely upon my listeners and the support from my listeners in order to continue to bring the Voices of VR podcast to you. And so I really encourage you to, if you've been a longtime listener and you've been feeling a sense of either guilt or regret that you haven't become a member yet, then now is really actually a really great time for you to join and become a member of the Voices of VR Patreon. $5 a month is a great amount to give and I think that would just help allow me to continue to bring you and sustain the coverage that I'm doing here on the Voices of VR podcast. And so you can learn more and become a member at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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