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Autism clients need ‘long-term strategies’

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Tomorrow’s Voices co-founder and chair of board of directors Thea Furbert (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Adults with autism need more support to help them lead independent lives, a campaigner said yesterday.

Thea Furbert, co-founder of autism charity Tomorrow’s Voices, added that its services for young people with autism should be better integrated with Bermuda Government services.

Ms Furbert said Tomorrow’s Voices wanted to fill the gap for older people with the condition.

She added: “We have a number of children who range from 2 to 19 but the majority are aged 2 to 7.

“We find a lot of our students will age out of Tomorrow’s Voices at 21 and we want to make sure that they have somewhere to go that will facilitate their needs, so we are looking at adding facilities for older clients.

“For my son, who is 19, they teach him job readiness — they taught him to do shredding, to pack shelves. His everyday goal here is to reach independence.”

Ms Furbert was speaking as Tomorrow’s Voices marked its first anniversary in its headquarters in Happy Valley Road, Pembroke.

The charity has nearly tripled its number of clients in two years from six to 16 and now has four classrooms, a sensory room, an art room, kitchen, library and offices, as well as an outdoor play area shared with the Government’s Teen Services.

A team of ten staff are able to give individual care designed to provide youngsters with the conditions for the best possible start in life.

The team at Tomorrow’s Voices includes nine senior to junior level verbal behaviour therapists.

There is also a board certified senior behaviour analyst who oversees programmes and an administrator. The charity had just one classroom and a sensory room in its former premises in Hamilton’s King Street.

Ms Furbert said: “With this move, we have more room to be more flexible and affect our clients more positively. It is fantastic — it’s a much larger facility.”

But she added: “We don’t want the older clients to have nowhere to go. There is a government facility that facilitates adults with disabilities in general.

“Our clients with autism, they don’t die early. They are like everybody else and long-term strategies are needed.”

She said: “We do a lot of consulting in schools, in homes and in the community. We will continue to grow that role.”

Ms Furbert added that Tomorrow’s Voices should be used to provide consultation services for mainstream school programmes, including those at West Pembroke Primary School, Prospect Primary School, Paget Primary School and Dellwood Middle School.

She said: “When it comes to the school environment, we want to make sure that we are partnering with the Ministry of Education and providing them with support.

“We are very experienced in the field. We could better help them and could be better utilised by them so we want to grow that support on behavioural strategies in classrooms.

“We have board certified behaviour analysts and if a teacher doesn’t understand why a child is doing something, we can go in and help to provide strategies for them.

“We also need to make sure that they have the resources; children with autism learn quicker and better with small teacher-student ratios.”

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a developmental problem that affects communication and relations with others and how those with the condition experience the world around them.

The condition cannot be cured, but proper treatment can maximise learning and development and help people with autism to lead independent lives.

Tomorrow’s Voices Bermuda Autism Early Intervention Centre was launched in 2007 by Ms Furbert, whose 19-year-old son Cire Furbert-Lambert has autism, and her friend Trisha Simons who has three children with autism.

Ms Furbert, who is also chairman of the charity, said she did not want any parent to experience the problems she had when there were few programmes designed for autism in Bermuda.

She said: “We decided it was time to open up a centre to reach these children and give them that best first start.”

Ms Furbert added: “There are some government services — the Child Development Programme and Child and Adolescent Services that pre-assess clients and provide some services — but we are the only organisation that applies applied behaviour analysis [ABA] and that is the most significant therapy that is necessary for children on the spectrum. That is why we always have a waiting list.”

The bulk of the charity’s funding comes from two major private donors and smaller contributions from members of the public, while Government gives just 1.9 per cent of expenditure.

Tomorrow’s Voices has attracted international accolades from the Boston Children’s Hospital and Acquisitions International, a UK-based magazine which named the charity best autism and prevention centre.

Ms Furbert said: “We have received plaques and awards for our work.

“We have been recognised because of our ability to make sure that what we are providing is at level necessary to make changes and also being advocates for our young people to be independent.”

For more information about Tomorrow’s Voices visit www.tomorrowsvoices.bm, call 297-4342 or e-mail info@tomorrowsvoices.bm

Better support needed: Tomorrow’s Voices co-founder Thea Furbert