Column: Share The Puzzle, Autism Awareness

April 30, 2019

[Written by MP Tinee Furbert]

April has come to an end, a month that has been full of activity recognizing autism awareness. I am reminded of the person who asked me “are we doing enough for people with autism?”

I had to say, “Well look around. How are you supporting someone with autism?”

Awareness of any condition people live with fosters a community of people who are better educated. It is what you do with that education that is the key.

I remember one of my first experiences with an autistic child. I was working at a pre-school for the summer. We enrolled a 3-year-old who fit right in after being expelled from another pre-school for their behavior. They looked like everyone else, had bright eyes and a distinguished smile.

They enjoyed being around their peers; it gave them the opportunity to explore and learn. At times they would pull at the girl’s ponytails hard, snatch up a peer’s sandwich and eat it, and swipe the toys off the shelf onto the floor.

They were testing their understanding of cause and effect and trial and error, ongoing skills we develop in life. Some behaviors were even their way of expressing themselves when they could not use words. It was our duty to teach those around us about those possible behaviors and how to manage them. It was our duty to manage what felt like the unmanageable.

With boundaries set and those boundaries quite often broken, it was only a real concern to the adult staff and some parents, as they were required to keep order and others safe, but rarely did the other children make a fuss about it.

It takes special skills, training, love, character and rapport. It is very rewarding to see the growth and steady progress.

I have observed how persons with autism thrive and develop at a faster pace when their parents can afford services such as their own dedicated applied behavior analysis trained therapist or occupational, physical and speech-language therapist or any other interventionist.

However, when their parents cannot afford such services, progress can be delayed. Is it fair to limit progress because your child happens to have autism and you can’t afford the services they need to progress?

We must give thanks to all the parents and people who support autism. Groups and service providers such as BASE and Tomorrow’s Voices who have played a significant role in advocacy and awareness. Parents, your children do not have a full chance if you don’t continue to educate.

Services in Bermuda for persons with autism have come a long way. Can it be better? Yes! However, we must recognize and appreciate where we are. We will continue to work hard to improve access and services for persons with autism and their families.

We have come a long way. Compared to the services we had years ago, we now have:

  • More widespread awareness of autism
  • Public schools with more students with autism who are part of an inclusive education environment
  • Autism spectrum diagnosis specific classrooms in public education
  • Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy/Verbal Behavior Services at Tomorrow’s Voices
  • Child and Adolescent Services at Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute offering autism spectrum assessment clinics
  • Occupational, Physical and Speech-Language Therapists in public education and health
  • Ongoing education seminars through Ministry of Education, BASE and Tomorrow’s Voices

Where we can go…

  • Better coverage from insurance companies. Autism is a diagnosis in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, a classification system which helps to evaluate for disorders. Just as our healthcare system makes prescription drugs easily accessible to help manage diagnoses, there are other evidence based interventions such as applied behavioral analyses which are effective and should be accessible to persons with autism just as prescription drugs are
  • Improve collaborative intervention and planning with support teams including clinical, educational and vocational staff
  • Improve consistency across service providers with schedules, frequency and communication
  • Continue with ongoing education seminars
  • Financially supporting programs and/or charities

Anyone who parents a child with autism has a very special gift; A gift to the world to remind us that we are all packaged differently. They are your very own piece of the puzzle of this journey we call life.

- Tinee Furbert


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