Helping children having problems
Tahiyyah Ali knew that she was not qualified for the job Intuition was advertising, but it was exactly the one she wanted.
Determined, she sent in her résumé with a cover letter pointing out her shortcomings — and waited.
As a teacher who had worked with special needs students, what she found most appealing about William Madeiros's consultancy was that it was designed to help children with a broad range of behavioural challenges and development disabilities.
It took a year before she was hired. Since then she has been trained as a registered behaviour technician and is now working towards a master's degree with a view to becoming a board-certified behaviour analyst, one of the company's top roles.
“I sent my résumé in and did a cover letter mentioning that, although I'm not a BCBA, I have experience with special needs children and the ABA [applied behaviour analysis] theory,” she said.
“They sent me an e-mail saying that at the moment they need BCBAs but, once the company is a bit more established they will need people to work under the BCBAs and that they would train them.
“I waited. I did have other job offers within the year, but they weren't what I wanted, so I declined.
“I went with my gut. I kept the faith and it all worked out. My hope is to encourage other people. Don't just stick with the mediocre; go further, push further, look and get more knowledge.
“I love what I'm doing. I look forward to going to work every day and learning more, exploring more.”
Her experience is an early success story for Intuition. It launched in 2018 with a dual goal of helping young people and training Bermudians to treat them.
“Research indicated that those services should be delivered by qualified board-certified behaviour analysts,” said Mr Madeiros, the company director.
“We were fortunate to initially partner with Naomi [Taylor] and Frances [Parkes], both of whom are qualified.
“Subsequently, we hired two Bermudians, Trina [Davis-Williams] and Tahiyyah, and we are mentoring and sponsoring their ongoing training.
“There is no lack of need for their services and we would encourage caring and patient individuals to consider this as a career path.”
Before joining Intuition, Ms Parkes and Ms Taylor worked with Tomorrow's Voices, a care centre that has offered ABA “and verbal behaviour services for children on the autism spectrum” in Bermuda since 2007.
What they both found appealing was Intuition's plan to move the ABA services into the mainstream school system.
“The idea was to try and help kids who don't need to be taken out from where they are; kids who should have the opportunity to access learning and access all these opportunities next to their typical peers, but who might need a little bit more support, their teachers might need a little bit more input, parents might need some support in terms of what to do at home.
“That was the purpose of the company,” said Ms Taylor, explaining that they started in the private schools before branching out into the public system in the past year.
Typically, the children they saw had been for an assessment overseas and told “autism, ADHD or other developmental delays” could be the reason for their challenges.
“But more and more often we're finding children and young adults that don't actually have a diagnosis,” Ms Parkes said.
“They don't meet the criteria yet, they're being excluded from class or they're getting into trouble, they're not completing their schoolwork, they're not getting along with their peers, they're falling behind from their peers.
“And that happens more and more often with the children we're working with. It's quite often that there isn't a report, no diagnosis of a real reason why it's happening. But they're not turning up to class, they're turning up with the wrong uniform on or they're calling out in class all the time.”
What often follows is that the student's relationship with the teacher begins to deteriorate and Intuition is called in.
“We say if a child could behave they would,” Ms Parkes said.
“There's a reason why they're falling behind from their peers and we try to find out what that reason is and replace it.”
Doing so involves a process of teaching new skills and then reinforcing them in the school setting.
The difficulty is getting everyone to buy into that.
Ms Taylor said: “A big part of what we've spent our first 12 months doing is trying to break this stigma that goes with having behaviour support and, specifically, the one-to-one ABA support that we deliver.
“I think parents initially sort of pushed back against that. So we've spent a lot of time reaching out to schools, out to families, doing parent workshops to increase understanding that if you had a toothache you'd go and see a dentist, if you were sick you'd go to a doctor and if you're having problems with a behaviour you should go and see behaviour specialists and I think that's been a big shift over the past 18 months.
“People are starting to come on board with the fact that kids learn in different ways, that needing a little bit of extra support is not a really bad thing. And that's something that we're going to continue to try and spread the word on, that it's just another service that a lot of kids would benefit from.”
Although they have seen their clients improve, the change is gradual rather than immediate, Ms Parkes said.
The method differs depending on the age of the child: while new behaviour can be taught at home and in the classroom with younger students, the same won't always work with a teenager.
“Say we have a 13-year-old, we might never be in the classroom with them. We might be, maybe, seeing them off to school, putting systems in the classroom with their teacher; working with their teacher to rebuild that relationship but never physically being there,” she explained.
“We have to be mindful that not every 13-year-old wants to have an aide or needs an aide in class following them around. Every case is different.”
Although official records do not exist at the moment, Ms Taylor suspects there are “loads” of students who could benefit from what they are offering.
“I think, following the Covid restrictions, the shelter-in-place, the time away from peers, time away from structure, that number will have only increased significantly,” she said.
Ms Parkes added: “You don't need to have paperwork that says ‘I'm autistic, I'm going to find this hard'. Especially with Covid, with the changes and the unknown, right now forms the most stressful environment for children to have to cope with every day.”
As such, “the training and upskilling of local professionals” is a “massive focus”.
“One of the main reasons we wanted to join Intuition was to help create employment pathways and long-lasting, fulfilling career paths for Bermudians who are looking to get into the field,” Ms Taylor said.
“Our goal at Intuition is to try and deliver very specifically tailored training. We've been in Bermuda now for nearly five years working across the government system and the private school system to deliver really specific specialised training that's tailored for Bermuda and the culture over here and the population that these staff are going to be working with.”
It is that support that got Ms Davis-Williams interested in being a part of the team.
“I truly enjoy working for Intuition as you can see the behaviours of our clients change as well as having the data to support it.
“It may sound cliché, but I have definitely found my dream job. My supervisors, Frances Parkes and Naomi Taylor, are phenomenal mentors, always ready to offer advice and suggestions.
“I also truly appreciate that they value my opinion enough to ask what are my thoughts on problems that may arise. The absolute best part is, they are always pushing me to go further.”
• For more information on Intuition, visit intuitionbda.com