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Gaps remain in autism early intervention, education and training

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Sherri-Lee Bucci, the president of Bermuda Autism Support and Education, joined Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Youth Social Development and Seniors, far right, as Ms Furbert declared April as Autism Acceptance Month (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Despite Bermuda’s strides in autism awareness and acceptance, gaps persist in early intervention, training and education on the condition, according to a non-profit leader.

Sherri-Lee Bucci, the president of Bermuda Autism Support and Education, spoke to The Royal Gazette after the reading of the proclamation for World Autism Awareness Day, which launches World Autism Acceptance Month in April.

Accompanied at the Cabinet Office grounds by nine Cabinet members, including David Burt, Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Youth, Social Development and Seniors, read the proclamation, which called on the community to remove barriers so that people with autism can live their lives to their full potential.

Ms Bucci said: “One of the things that helps people to access services is diagnoses, particularly early diagnoses with young children.

“Everywhere in Bermuda there is a long waiting list to get an early diagnosis and that is worldwide as well.

“There is a wonderful government agency in Bermuda, the Child Development Programme under the Department of Education, that we are working with so it can be truly operational and able to support families with their child’s early detection, development and intervention.

“That would go a long way, particularly for families who may not have insurance coverage.

“The CDP does work with families who don’t have insurance and it doesn’t cost anything, so that is our first stop. Anyone can go to CDP with a child from birth up until age 5.

“They can get some services but there is a bit of a gap because if persons in Bermuda are wait-listed, even for services in Bermuda through private practitioners.

“It is very expensive and there is inequity across who can and who can’t.

“We don’t want to leave any child out, so we are looking forward to CDP being fully operational so that they can, once again, be able to do a full gamut of assessments — screening, developmental assessments as well as the assessments for Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

Ms Bucci said that businesses, schools and other organisations can do more to provide education and training to foster awareness, understanding and acceptance.

She added: “There are gaps in terms of helping autistic individuals to get work. Worldwide, they have a very hard time getting work.

“Advocates in Base for persons with autism and for training that says, this is how this person is presenting — if they don’t say please or thank you and all these social niceties, it does not mean that they are rude.

“If they are blunt and quite literal, it does not mean that they are being aggressive.

“Tomorrow’s Voices has a programme for older persons who are autistic so I believe that is a help.

“But I also believe that the Department of Workforce Development or private companies can say, we want this percentage of our workforce to include persons on the autism spectrum.”

Autism Awareness Month proclamation

Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Youth, Social Development and Seniors, read the proclamation on the grounds of Cabinet.

“Whereas, autism affects all persons regardless of their race, religion, socio-economic status or geography and whereas the incidence of autism worldwide is one in every 100, and one in every 36 children, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Whereas, autism is a neurological variant that affects how people communicate and interact. As a spectrum condition it affects people in different ways.

“Whereas, in the words of the National Autism Society, people with autism face discrimination and barriers across all sectors of society in the health and social care systems, in education, in employment and everywhere in between, it is crucial that autistic people and their families and their caregivers can access tailored information, guidance and support to overcome those barriers, access opportunities to explore their interests, develop skills and build relationships for fulfilled lives.

“Whereas, people with autism do not need to be cured or fixed but rather to be accepted and supported according to their need to function in a neurotypical world.

“Whereas, in Bermuda we want the community to be aware of autism and what it is. Moreover, we want persons with autism to be accepted as valuable members of the community.

“I do here proclaim that the island of Bermuda implements the ideals of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and declare the month of Autism Acceptance Month.”

After reading the proclamation, Ms Furbert said World Autism Awareness Day and World Autism Acceptance Month emphasise the importance of embracing neuro-diversity, and recognising the unique strengths and abilities of people on the autism spectrum.

She said: “Despite growing awareness, there are still instances of discrimination and lack of understanding.

“Autism is a lifelong condition and the need for support and understanding will persist. Therefore, continuous efforts in education and training are essential.”

She said businesses, schools and other organisations should be providing training and resources to their staff about autism.

She added: “This includes recognising signs of autism, understanding individual needs and implementing inclusive practices.

“We also need to ensure that physical spaces and activities are accessible and welcoming for people with autism. This may include sensory-friendly environments and communication strategies.”

David Burt, the Premier, makes remarks at a proclamation reading for Autism Awareness Month on the Cabinet Office grounds (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Premier also took the opportunity to share some words, adding: “On behalf of the Government, we thank Base for your selfless work helping persons on the autism spectrum realise their full potential.

“For over 20 years you have helped to enhance and expand our island’s understanding of autism, increase public awareness and been a driving force behind greater acceptance in the community.”

Ahmani Peets, the owner of Ahmani’s Cookie Company, who is also on the autism spectrum, handed out his homemade cookies to the members of the Cabinet as well as other attendees.

Ms Bucci told him he was a source of “inspiration and motivation” for his success in business.

Ahmani Peets, of Ahmani’s Cookie Company, gifts David Burt a box of his cookies to share with Cabinet members (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Ms Bucci said she was “honoured” to have the backing of the Government at the proclamation, adding: “Base is committed to providing education and training to the public, private and the non-profit sectors of Bermuda to bring about greater awareness and understanding of autism, and how best to service autistic persons.

“We are endeavouring to focus on autism every month with education and training so that we can help to break myths and misunderstandings.”

She said that there were no accurate statistics on the number of people with autism in Bermuda.

She added: “We did have a task force that was working towards that across many agencies.

“One of the items was to ask different physiologists and agencies that provide assessments and diagnoses.

“It is very difficult to get busy organisations together to meet regularly and try to get at least an idea.”

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Published April 03, 2024 at 7:55 am (Updated April 03, 2024 at 7:57 am)

Gaps remain in autism early intervention, education and training

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