What is behaviour therapy?

Behaviour therapy (BT) is based on the principles of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) and focuses on reducing challenging behaviours and teaching new skills. It has many applications, including reducing aggressive behaviour, improving language skills, enhancing social behaviours, reducing self-injurious behaviours and toileting. BT focuses on observable behaviours rather than attitudes or beliefs; results are measurable and designed to be maintained over time.

ABA is an evidence-based approach that is considered to be effective in helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). One common misconception is that BT can only be used to treat ASD; while the therapy is useful for treating this disorder, it has much broader applications.

The method works to understand the causes or functions of challenging behaviours that interfere with daily life and identify more appropriate behaviours as replacements. For instance, if a child screams and bites when given work in class, a behaviour therapist might teach the child to use a picture symbol or communicate that they need a break. This will reduce the need to engage in the challenging behaviour (biting and screaming) and increase functional communication.

Behaviour therapists (BTs) draw on different techniques from the field to increase or decrease behaviours. Decreasing a challenging behaviour can also involve teaching the caregivers how to respond effectively when the behaviour occurs. Increasing a skill involves finding ways to prompt that behaviour, motivating the child to repeat it and rewarding its occurrence.

The therapist works toward broad goals like social skills or communication, and tracks progress by breaking that goal down, and looking at very specific indicators, such as how often a child makes eye contact, makes a request or takes turns—whatever measure is appropriate for the goal.

Who can benefit from BT?

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or intellectual disabilities (sometimes referred to as “Global Developmental Delay”) often benefit from BT. Children with specific behaviour disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiant Disorder are also good candidates for BT.

As well as helping children with specific behaviour issues, BT can build foundational skills that enable future learning. For example, imitation is a fundamental social behaviour that is useful for everything from knowing when to clap at a party to figuring out where to line up to take the bus. Using BT to enhance these foundational skills can have a lifelong impact.

What role can parents play?

The behaviour therapist can help parents design routines (e.g., morning, bedtime), as well as teach strategies to enhance or reduce behaviours. Morneau Shepell’s Children’s Support Solutions team will guide parents on how they can best support their child. Parents should ask any questions that are on their mind.

How does Morneau Shepell use behaviour therapy?

There are two primary areas of support provided at Morneau Shepell’s Children’s Support Solutions: behaviour consultation both of which design treatment programs based on the principles of ABA. We support early intervention programs (called Intensive Behaviour Intervention, IBI, in Ontario) which are best practice for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder; but can also provide support for children with other diagnosis like Down Syndrome. We also provide behaviour management support for children of all abilities which include programs like toilet training, morning routines and more.

How our early intervention work Intensive Behaviour Intervention (IBI) works

In IBI therapy, children typically work with behaviour therapists for anywhere from 20 to 40 hours per week towards individualized goals. It is ideal for a child to begin IBI therapy as early as possible, typically around the age of 3. Many children who start IBI therapy have a diagnosis of Autism, but a diagnosis is not required to start therapy.

The first step in IBI is conducting an assessment that typically uses one of two tools; the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) or the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS). The assessment generally takes from six to ten hours and provides detailed insight into a child’s strengths and needs. Then the supervising therapist develops a treatment program to target teaching and developing the skills identified by the assessment. In IBI the program is always building on a child’s successes to help them get to their next best step. Every 6 months the same assessment will be administered (it may be supplemented by other assessments) to determine the progress the child has made and confirm this therapeutic approach is the best way to support that individual child and if it’s necessary to bring in any additional team members.

Government of Ontario funded IBI services and the Direct Funding Option (DFO)

Parents typically pay for IBI therapy through private-pay, charitable, or government funding.

In Ontario, children with a diagnosis of Autism may qualify for government funding for IBI. Eligibility is determined by the regional program in your area. If your child qualifies for funding, we are happy to support this program. We work with clinical psycholgists that are approved in the local regional program to supervise government funded IBI programs. We offer flexibility in terms of the hours and treatment location (home, clinic, school) for your child. We are also able to support integrating disciplines including speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and more.

Behaviour Consultation

In behaviour consultation, a behaviour therapist assesses the family and child’s needs, and may conduct a functional behaviour assessment. The BT will then provide strategies and may model the use of these strategies for parents to implement at home and in the community to help their child.

How are behaviour therapists trained and certified?

Therapists typically have an undergraduate degree in psychology, sociology, education or life sciences, as well as a more specialized certificate in autism or behavioural science. There are also many professionals at Morneau Shepell’s Children’s Support Solutions who have or are working toward a master’s degree.

The main certifications of a behaviour consultant are:

  • BCBA – Board Certified Behaviour Analyst
  • BCaBA – Board Certified Assistant Behaviour Analyst
  • RBT – Registered Behaviour Technician