Behavioural Therapy (ABA)

Canoe has a thriving Applied Behaviour Analysis team.  ABA is an evidence-based approach that can support the development of lasting, positive changes in individuals who struggle with emotional regulation, social or life skills; this may include children with autism. The goal of ABA is to increase behaviours that are helpful and have a meaningful impact, and decrease behaviours that are harmful or affect learning.

When a child’s behaviour negatively affects their ability to be social, or the routines of the family or their learning in school, it is time to get support.  We start the process with a thorough assessment and work from there to set goals.  ABA is a systematic approach focused on behaviours and outcomes. We want kids to find their groove within social scenarios, family life and in school. The process encompasses a focus on communication, cognition, social development, academics, and adaptive learning skills, such as motor dexterity, and life skills such as dressing, hygiene, grooming, and domestic chores.  

The goal of therapy is to help kids develop strategies and behaviours that improve their ability to navigate the world, both at home and school.

How does ABA therapy work?

Therapy involves gaining an understanding of the function of a behaviour and then teaching replacement behaviours that serve the same function. 

·       Can be adapted to meet the needs of each unique person – goals are individualized

·       Can support skill development in different locations – at home, at school, and in the community

·       Teaches skills that are useful in everyday life

·       Can involve one-to-one teaching or group instruction

Positive Reinforcement 

Positive reinforcement is utilized during ABA sessions.

·       When a behaviour is followed by something that is valued (i.e. social praise, a book, toy, etc. ), a person is more likely to repeat that behaviour. Over time, this encourages positive behaviour change.

·       Behaviours that are desired are reinforced, which encourages the child to continue using this skill.

Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence

Understanding antecedents (what happens before a behaviour occurs) and consequences (what happens after the behaviour) is another important part of any ABA program.

The following three steps – the “A-B-Cs” – help us teach and understand behaviour:

1.     An antecedent: this is what occurs right before the target behaviour. It can be verbal, such as a command or request. It can also be physical, such a toy or object, or a light, sound, or something else in the environment. An antecedent may come from the environment, from another person, or be internal (such as a thought or feeling). 

2.     A resulting behaviour: this is the person’s response or to the antecedent. It can be an action, a verbal response, or something else. To determine if the action counts as a behaviour it has to pass the “dead mans test”.  Simply stated, if a dead man can do it, it is not a behaviour (therefore not responding is not considered a behaviour). 

3.     A consequence: this is what comes directly after the behaviour. It can include positive reinforcement of the desired behaviour, or no reaction for incorrect/inappropriate responses.

Looking at A-B-Cs helps us understand:

1.     Why a behaviour may be happening

2.     How different consequences could affect whether the behaviour is likely to happen again


·       Antecedent: The teacher says “It’s time to clean up your toys” at the end of the day.

·       Behaviour: The student yells “no!”

·       Consequence: The teacher removes the toys and says “Okay, toys are all done.”

How could ABA help the student learn a more appropriate behaviour in this situation?

·       Antecedent: The teacher says “time to clean up” at the end of the day.

·       Behaviour: The student is reminded to ask, “Can I have 5 more minutes?”

·       Consequence: The teacher says, “Of course you can have 5 more minutes!”

With continued practice, the student will be able to replace the inappropriate behaviour with one that is more helpful. This is an easier way for the teacher to satisfy the child’s needs!

What Does an ABA Program Involve?

Good ABA programs are not “one size fits all.” Rather, each program is written to meet the needs of the individual learner. The goal of any ABA program is to help each person work on skills that will help them become more independent and successful in the short term, as well as in the future. 

Planning and Ongoing Assessment

A qualified and trained behaviour analyst (BCBA) designs and directly oversees the program. They customize the ABA program to each learner’s skills, needs, interests, preferences and family situation. 

The BCBA will start by meeting with the child’s parents to discuss their goals and assessing the child’s current skills and preferences. They will use this information to write specific treatment goals. While ABA is not meant to be life-long it can be a longer-term intervention. Learners are reassessed every 6 months to determine the learner’s overall progress. 

Who benefits from ABA?

ABA is often associated with intervention for autism, however, you do not need a diagnosis to benefit from this intervention. Many of our learners do not have any diagnosis or may be in the process of assessments from a diagnosis practitioner. Some of our learners may have suspected attention deficit disorder, or overall difficulties with regulating their emotions. We support learners from 2 to 15 years old, and as you can imagine, goals for each age are individualized for each learner. 

Work with a specialized team member at Canoe.

At Canoe Therapy, our team of professionals are dedicated to one common goal: helping your child to thrive, be confident, happy and successful in life. Get in touch with one of our passionate Behavioural Therapists.

Behavioural Therapists