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Autism campaigner wins award

Thea Furbert with her award (Photograph supplied)

An autism campaigner has been honoured with an international award.Thea Furbert, the co-founder and board chairwoman of Tomorrow’s Voices, claimed the prize at the Autism Law Summit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.She was recognised for her work to improve the services to people with autism and other developmental disabilities on the island through the Tomorrow’s Voice’s Autism Early Intervention Centre.Ms Furbert said: “I was totally shocked and speechless to receive the award, but I am truly thankful for being recognised internationally for what we are doing here that is mirroring what is being done internationally for autism.“Everyone was high-fiving and it was a very celebratory atmosphere, which was phenomenal.”She was speaking after the award was presented last Friday.The two-day summit included more than 300 parents of autistic children, autism service providers, lawyers, people with autism, lobbyists and legislators from across the world.Members discussed plans for autism policy and reform and took part in workshops.Ms Furbert was invited by organisers Mike Wasmer, the former director of state government affairs of Autism Speaks and now the VP of government affairs and special projects at The Council of Autism Service Providers, and Lorri Shealy Unumb, the CEO of the council.Ms Unumb, whose son has autism, has been a major force in improvements in services for autistic people in the United States.She took her case across the US and helped ensure that all 50 states and Washington DC, have autism insurance rights. Ms Furbert was called the “Lorri Unumb of Bermuda” during the awards ceremony.Ms Furbert said: “Being compared to Lorri was fantastic because she has made so many changes in the US. To be compared to her was such a great moment and honour for me.” She added: “Attending the summit has created a fire in me to research more about Bermuda’s laws that are attached to those with disabilities so that we can know what is missing and what needs to be done further; so that we can advocate for special needs laws as well as special education laws in Bermuda.”Ms Furbert’s son, Ciré, has autism and was the inspiration for the creation of Tomorrow’s Voices 12 years ago.Jahnae Harvey, a senior verbal behavioural therapist at Tomorrow’s Voices, joined Ms Furbert at the summit.She said: “With more children and clients growing up there is a need to figure out next steps. There were workshops that took place on how to facilitate the older populations.“While there is insurance coverage, a lot still have age limitations and some places are trying to get those caps completely removed.”She added: “The major take-home is that we have done the fundamental steps that just about everyone around the world is doing and we are on par.”Ms Harvey said: “There is still a lot of growing that we need to do in Bermuda. “But it was good to see the long-term results so that we can continue in the way we are working, in the way that we are advocating and spreading awareness to inform everyone why it’s important to have these evidence-based services and also why it’s important to have insurance coverage, especially for our parents.”For more information on Tomorrow’s Voices, contact Stacy Hill at 297-4342 or e-mail info@tomorrowsvoices.bm.