Imagine taking a math test, not in the quiet hum of a classroom, but at a Taylor Swift concert. The lights are bright. Everyone is screaming and jumping. And you’re wearing a tight and itchy shirt.
Belden Long, the co-founder of justb, says that some kids unfortunately don’t need to imagine such a scenario: “That’s what it can feel like for a child with autism in the classroom.”
The startup is an evidence-based movement and mindfulness platform designed for teachers to help students with developmental disorders, like autism.
The startup was one of seven to participate in the latest cohort of Duke Innovation Studio‘s accelerator program, which culminated in a virtual Demo Day. Long also participated in the Duke Student Founders program in Fall 2021.
With a monthly subscription, justb customers can access sensory-friendly tools that support cognitive function, physical health, and emotional regulation based on their needs. With over 70 videos available that are classified into three categories—activating, center or deactivating—teachers can easily select a video that suits their students’ “energy” on any given day or moment.
“Movement is an underutilized tool in the classroom,” Long said. “Not only to prepare kids to learn, but also to promote their holistic well-being.”
The startup, which is a team of four based in multiple states, is currently piloting with 42 teachers at public and private schools. Long said they are offering schools annual contracts, while also offering individual subscriptions for $34.99/month or $74.99 for a full summer.
Long, who is also pursuing a doctorate in occupational therapy at Duke, launched the company in 2021 alongside her former D1 soccer teammate Rosie White. They both played at UCLA, while White also played professionally in the National Women’s Soccer League and represented New Zealand in three World Cups and two Olympics.
Long got the idea for the platform during the pandemic while teaching children with autism at KidsConnect Pediatric Therapy in Los Angeles.
Families of autistic children often struggle to find resources and specialists who can meet their kids’ individual needs. Long said when the pandemic hit, this problem amplified. To combat this, she, with the help of White, conducted yoga classes online for these families with both livestream and recorded options.
Together, they started creating sensory-friendly videos, showcasing various physical activities designed for children with autism. These videos soon became what is known today as justb.
“We believe that a child’s physical body is the foundation for all learning and social interaction,” Long said. “So, helping all kids feel connected, comfortable and empowered in their bodies is really our mission.”
Statistics suggest a platform like this is needed. Less than 25% of youth meet the recommended daily exercise guidelines, and children with developmental disorders are estimated to be almost five times less physically active than their peers.
justb wants to celebrate all ways of being, Long said, so all their tools are designed with neurodivergent children in mind. Collaborating with pediatric therapists, parents, teachers, kids and more has been key to building a successful platform, she said.
The team is also conducting a research study through the Duke occupational therapy department to determine if justb is not only feasible, but can also be proven effective in improving outcomes in categories like physical self-esteem and general well-being. The second phase of this study is working with autistic children in learning spaces to understand their experiences using the platform as a tool.
For 2023, Long said their goal is to hit 1,500 subscribers—including families and teachers—and 100 schools.
Beyond the numbers lies an even broader goal, Long said: “Everybody deserves the opportunity to engage in meaningful movement.”