Setting up a new ABA clinic: Our experience

At last month’s New York ABA Conference we were asked to share our story of our clinics with three separate parties. This seems to happen at all of the conferences we attend so I thought I would put our story down on paper in hopes that many people can benefit from our successes and mistakes (which, I firmly believe are only failures if you fail to learn from them.) So here you are, my experience setting up a new ABA Clinic.

I met my business partner at pre-natal class in 2005, we were each pregnant with our first child. In the year after our babies were born we became good friends. I had a marketing company and also was the general manager for my husband’s technology consulting firm. She worked as a Behavior Analyst for a centre in Ottawa and also consulted privately. She would drive over 45 minutes from one client’s house to another. She was extremely frustrated with how poorly some of the client hired ABA therapists were at the delivery of care, and even more so by the fact that the parents did not want to let the staff go and hire new ones. She spent more time working on the programs than she billed the clients, and the centre where she worked did not want to grow…. in essence she was stuck. A whirlwind of progressive ideas with no outlet.

If you’re a clinic owner, take a look at how our ABA software will benefit your clinic’s bottom line.

At the same time, my husband’s consulting business was taking off and I sold my marketing firm. I was looking for something new, and when She told me of her dream to open her own ABA clinic, I said “Why don’t you open your own clinic?” Three days later, my husband and I went over to her house and worked through a business plan. We incorporated The Portia Learning Centre six weeks later, and open our first ABA clinic in eight weeks, serving children with autism, developmental delays and disorders. We outgrew our first clinic within six months and set up a second ABA clinic one year later and a third two years thereafter. In the interim I had two more children and My partner had one more.

I remember when we got our first client, I was given a shopping list of 2 – three inch binders, page protectors and dividers – I said “WHAT? Are you kidding me?”

And yes, the game of who’s graph is this anyway began. It was, and still is amazing to me how few people know how to graph properly. On top of this the reports were incorrect; a good majority of the staff would stay for an extra 30 to 90 minutes each Wednesday night fixing graphs and data sheets. In the six years of being a paper based data centre we caught two therapists who “gamed the system”… they would look back over the data and if the mastery was set to 3 sessions of yes, then proceed to generalization (and therefore add a new target) they would place a no on the third session. Oddly enough it was their colleagues that caught this, not the managers… I have to say here, and strongly stress that 98% of therapists are absolutely amazing – they devote their life to helping others. However, the other 2% that entered the field solely for the reason that they thought it would be an easy gig, or that it would help them get into the school board as a teacher – these people I have no time for. They cause damage to our clients, to our staff and to the ABA world.

The first few years was hectic… be warned the first two years of any business is a roller coaster! But we were ready for it. We grew carefully, in the beginning we would interview all candidates together and we careful to keep a strong company culture. My partner was the Behavior Analyst and Clinical Director. Once she had fifteen clients we hired another Behavior Analyst and so on. As we grew we promoted from within, solely for the reason that we had excellent staff and Portia’s methodologies were ABA science driven and our staff were so strongly trained in it that hiring a Senior level staff member from an outside source would be a greater time commitment than training from within.

The turning point for our business was when we sought to solve the pen and paper data collection process. Automating these processes saved both time and money. With the saving in time, our Behavior Analysts were able to grow their caseload. We reduced the therapist’s admin time from 30 minutes per session to 15 minutes. (Presently we still use index cards for pictures.. this time will be reduced further when the pictures are automatically part of the PortiaPro app).

The addition of ABA software in data collection also eliminated therapists pretending they were Behavior Analysts. A handful of staff protested when they were not allowed access to the graphs and reports – they wanted to know how the Learner performed with the other therapist so they could change their teaching. It’s rather dangerous when an untrained therapist is attempting to make programming changes, and yes a different teaching approach is a change in programming. What ever happened to blind trials? Back to school for this therapist! This particular therapist was so put out that she left employment within a few weeks… worked out for the best for everyone!

In 2014 we moved to 25,000 sq. ft. building in Kanata, while keeping our 2 other facilities running full steam. We now had a spacious gross motor room equipped with swings, mats, a classroom, many therapy rooms (three with one way mirrors), a sensory room, art room, computer lab and rooms for workshops, parent training, etc. Our focus now is partnerships within our communities; one of which is providing an on going placement facility to Algonquin College (click here to view this article), working with Autism Ontario, chapters in the Ottawa and Durham communities and my partner’s pet project an Autism Screening Clinic…. a much needed missing piece in Canada.

We are currently working to complete research on our technology-human interaction processes; and we recently completed a research project with Queens University using the ESDM (Early Start Denver Model) in a six month infant who was red flagged with autism. The results can be found here and are amazing!

Don’t get me wrong, setting up a new ABA Clinic is hard work, but it is worth it – the number of lives we have touched, and therefore have touched us has been so meaningful. I am surrounded by dedicated, caring professionals everyday – there is so much positive energy at the office, everyday I love going to work! I am proud of our work at Portia – both the Learning Centre and the ABA clinic software, our team has one focus and that is to improve lives, whether it be the Learner, the staff, the clinic owner or the parents – there is room for improvement and that is where our focus lies.


The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide any type of professional advice. Portia does not guaranty the accuracy or reliability of any information contained in this blog from third party sources. You should consult a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or other qualified professional for specific advice. Portia International assumes no responsibility for any reliance made on or misuse or omissions of the information contained in this blog.

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