Image provided by Alison Borden

In high school, Alison Borden tutored peers and younger students. She considered a career in teaching but ultimately decided the general classroom setting wasn’t for her.

“I just really liked teaching and the individualized pace approach of one-on-one tutoring,” says Borden.

When it was time to consider her post-secondary options, Alison’s mom sent her a newspaper article about Cap’s Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) program. It seemed like the perfect match: having grown up with a cousin who has autism, Borden was intrigued by the diagnosis and how someone could help people with autism.

Finding her passion through work

Individuals with autism can find tasks complex and overwhelming, especially in a school setting.

“While the average person may be able to see the steps in a given assignment, most people with autism who I have worked with don’t always have the skills necessary to do that,” says Borden. For example, arriving at school may seem simple to some, but includes: knowing how to cross the street, which door to enter, where to go first, where to put your things.

At Cap, Borden learned how to work with students with autism using the principles of ABA — studying observable behaviour and setting up environments for success. She helps those she works with break down bigger tasks into steps and teaches the skills for each step.

Borden credits her work experience while studying, including a 500-hour practicum in her second year, for her growth.

“As a class, we could problem solve through issues and talk about what principles were reflected in our work situations,” says Borden. “Everything we learned in school I was able to walk out and use in my practice.”

It was during her practicum that Borden started to feel excited about seeing a student’s smallest achievements — doing their zipper up by themselves, reading their first word, having a successful playdate.

“That’s when I realized this is what I wanted to do,” says Borden.

Educating the educators

Borden now works in the Yukon Territory as the region’s only Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (PBIS) coach with the Department of Education. She helps translate the theories of individualized positive behaviour support to an entire school environment.

“She’s now a leader in her field,” says Richard Stock, ABA Program Coordinator and one of Borden’s former instructors.

Borden travels to and supports all 28 schools in the Yukon, advising school leaders and teachers on how to best implement a more positive school climate that emphasizes consistency, social responsibility and opportunity for positive connections and relationships.

“Regardless of a diagnosis of autism and regardless of age, everyone benefits from a more positive and consistent environment for learning and working,” says Borden. “It is so much easier to learn when you know what to expect and what is expected of you.”

While she no longer works one-on-one with students diagnosed with autism, Borden still finds excitement in the small institutional achievements.

“I ultimately know that a more positive school culture and climate are benefitting not just every student, but also the students who may need extra support,” says Borden. “So I think in the long term I am impacting the same students that I may have been working with on an individual basis.”

Looking back

Borden advises prospective students of Cap’s ABA program to acquire as much work experience as possible.

“Work with as many different people in as many different locations as possible,” says Borden. “The more settings, supervisors, coworkers and clients you have in your first five years in the field, the easier it is to narrow down your specific area of interest.”

And another piece of advice — connect with your instructors.

“My instructors, like Richard Stock and Stephanie Jull, were so passionate about what they did that it instilled passion in me to be as good at the job as they were,” says Borden. “I still think back often on what they would do.”

Submitted by Taehoon Kim, Communications & Marketing

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Learn more about the ABA program.