Anne Millerd remembers the day her son, Riley, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.
“You know that something is going to change but you don’t know what,” says Millerd.
She sat down with Riley next to a construction site — he loved excavators at the time — and told him: you have autism, but autism is just a label and I am going to help you.
“You’re told your kid can’t do anything, they’re below average in language and in social skills,” says Millerd. “As a parent, you have to go on and see the strengths in your kids.”
Since then, Millerd’s family has worked with the faculty, grads, and students of Capilano University’s Applied Behaviour Analysis – Autism program to help create and support an environment for Riley to learn and succeed.
Riley, who is now 18, is more and more independent. He skis, takes the bus by himself, and has multiple part-time jobs.
“I say to him you can do everything you want to do, you just need support,” says Millerd.
It is estimated that 1 in 68 children meet the criteria for a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) is the most scientifically validated treatment that has been shown to be effective.
In British Columbia alone, families with children under the age of six can access up to $22,000 a year per child to help pay for eligible autism intervention services. During ages six to 18, the funding drops to $6,000 per year. Many families cannot access well-trained professionals. In fact, there are more families in BC seeking qualified ABA practitioners than there are clinicians to provide the service.
Rewarding work that is in demand
Capilano University offers Canada’s only Bachelor of Arts degree and post-baccalaureate diploma in ABA with a concentration in Autism. Grads gain real-life clinical experience during a rigorous 500-hour practicum, and are trained to become Board Certified Assistant Behaviour Analysts (BCaBA) — an internationally recognized credential.
The ABA program has a 100 per cent employment rate. Most jobs are in autism treatment — specialized areas include early intensive behavioural intervention, sexual health and safety with teens and youth, sports and recreation, and supported employment and transitions to adulthood — but grads can also go on to work in other fields such as teaching.