As children start the new school year in Bermuda, we sat down with Thea Furbert from Tomorrow's Voices - Bermuda Autism Early Intervention Centre to learn ...
[QIAN] So what's up
everyone...we are here with Thea Furbert from Tomorrow's Voices and they focus on autism.
embracing the amazing...
what does that shirt say? [THEA] Autism embracing the
amazing. [QIAN] Alright, and I got on my shirt as well. Thank you hooking me up. One thing...
we love to use our platform, and our huge audience just to help people to understand
different things that are happening in our community,
causes that we should be supporting and just giving a sense of the realities that some of us face.
And not only are you
one of the founders of Tomorrow's Voices,
your story is unique in that you have a son that has autism
as well. That sort of led you down this path, trying to find a resource here in Bermuda which is
behind us. You've got a brand new building so
you're continuing to do great things.
I just got to walk through it and check out some of the classrooms
have a great set up in there, so those of you that are
looking for a resource here in Bermuda, Tomorrow's Voices is doing great things. So tell us
about the new facility. [THEA] We've been here... well next month will be a year to tell you the truth and
it's a much bigger facility compared to where we were before.
Now we have about nine rooms here.
We have a sensory room, a library... we have four classrooms, a
natural environment area, and an art room. And then we have offices for our
administration and our senior therapy, so it's a much larger facility with
and an outside yard for the children and young adults teens to
have a good time in learning and trying to understand how autism affects them, and
setting them up so that they have great futures.
[QIAN] To people that might not understand exactly what autism is... it's a
disability which affects
communication... [THEA] Yeah, well a lot of things. It is a developmental disability or
Intellectual disability and it affects a number of things,
mostly communication and a child's ability to communicate their needs or
understanding communication as it comes to them, so
as well. It affects them in their ability to
have their world be okay with them. So there are world affects them differently.
Some things may be overstimulating to them like light or clothes
as well as
sometimes their minds are just
excessive so they need
things to be able to calm themselves down. And so autism
for every child is different, so it will affect them differently.
So we can't say, "Okay well your child has autism,
they go that way."
It's not that. When you have a child with autism,
they are being affected
in a number of ways. And so we have to be able to look at how we treat them in a number of ways.
[QIAN] So it's not one size fits all. [THEA] Not at all.
[QIAN] And you started this journey again because your child has autism, you went to the States and they told you okay..
"Here's the diagnosis. Now go back to Bermuda, and these are the resources that
you need in Bermuda." And a lot of those resources did not exist did not exist.
[THEA] Yeah, it was for a parent who's
just gotten that
diagnosis... of course a lot of the diagnoses at that time were done off Island so we went to Boston's Children and they were phenomenal
information and what my child needed. And so
they said if he lived there, he'd be accessing all these resources right away, and this was at 2 years old.
But I didn't live there...I lived in Bermuda. and so when we stepped off the plane,
going in many different directions, and there wasn't one
resource available for me to seek services for my son. He needed occupational therapy, speech therapy,
and ABA 'Applied Behavior Analysis' was the key
therapy that he needed and of course there wasn't any.
So in in order to make significant changes at a time, when his mind was mold-able... you know at 2
early intervention is key. And so in order to make sure that he got what he needed I had to hire someone
from overseas, brought them in... so I was paying
someone to facilitate my child. So that person was taking my son to school
and then she would have him after school.
And so I was paying the paycheck
for someone to
facilitate my child, because there was no availability in Bermuda for those resources. [QIAN] I can imagine the cost...
monetary, but the time and commitment is very taxing for
any parent that has a child with autism.
[THEA] Yeah, I mean
first you already got to have this diagnosis of your child having autism.
Then you've got to figure out the resources for them.
So it was very
overwhelming for me with regards to finding a way in order to make sure that my child got what he needed and
knowing that there was very little of that in Bermuda.
it definitely was very
overwhelming. And then to hire people...that person then had to have a consult in to make sure that that person was doing
it correctly with regards to therapy... and so it was...it was just overwhelming for me and my family.
We had a team.
My son's father, me and my extended family making sure that our son was able to
reap the rewards of therapy. [QIAN] We're sitting at the
facility of Tomorrow's Voices and
when it comes to young people
there's a trend...whether they're testing more for it, or they are in fact more young people
developing this which
remains I guess to be confirmed...but the fact remains it affects a
substantial amount of young people here in Bermuda.
Outside of your facility, what is the support? I know that
recently we've been talking about things like the standard health
benefit which is the the minimum support that if you have insurance,
the financial support that you would get. We also look at our schools in our
education system. Obviously these young people attend schools.
How advanced are we in terms of supporting them?
[THEA] I would say that Bermuda is definitely growing, but we're not there yet.
We're not there where we can look at a child with autism and say that child will be independent or
be as independent as necessary so that parents are not
burdened... and I could say burdened because
you have to always remember that
your child will always be a part of your life. And so when we look at
those organizations or public systems that are going to support our children, are they going to
provide everything that will
result in independence. That's what I want for my child and everyone wants for their children.
They want their children to be able to go into college, or if not start a trade.
But it's going to be a little different for our children.
But it's not that we don't want the same things. We all want the same things. We all want to see our children
flourish and be able to access a job and
where we are right now, that's going to be difficult for the population of
children and young adults that are
accessing our public system. We need to be a little bit more
aware of how
autism affects a child in every way, not just from an academic way, but from a holistic way.
Socially, a lot of our children
struggle with interacting with their peers.
So how are they going to sit down and do a job interview if they are not able to look
in the eyes of an employer or
communicate to an employer from questions that are asked? And those are the things that we need to look at now. because
They are because of their social
development and because of their lack of being able to get intensive support...
they're going to be struggling and then not being able to access this those arenas that a
typical person would... and even a typical person is
nervous when they go into a job interview so
put that by
500,000 the amount of anxiety that a child with autism would or a young adult with autism would have in being able to just
have a conversation
potential employer. And so we have to make sure that we have things in place
that are going to be able to give our children the opportunity to reach those sources, to reach some level of
independence... and we are not quite there yet.
[QIAN] Standard health benefit...does that include support for children with Autism?
[THEA] Um it is growing, but it needs to be more.
When most children in autism, when they get a diagnosis, in the reports it says
25 to 40 hours of applied behavior analysis and
ABA, applied behavior analysis, is the
way in which you are going to be able to teach your child all of the skills necessary so that they can
achieve some matter of
independence. And so that key therapy
Is not covered under standard health benefits.
So a lot of our clients are not able to access the amount of ABA that they want or need in order to
have productive lives in their future.
Early intervention is key, and so when a doctor says your child needs 25 to 40 hours of ABA per week
and they're not able to access that, they're at a disadvantage after already being at a disadvantage for having Autism.
Then the therapy that they need, they're not able to get access to because of
the ability to pay for it. [QIAN] So in terms of
young people with autism still have to go to school...
Are they allowed to pretty much attend any school that they desire?
Are all of our schools equipped with the tools, the personnel to
support a young person with autism to not only attend but to thrive?
[THEA] Right now our children cannot just attend any school. There are
certain skills that provides facilities for children with autism.
But I think that in wanting to have our children
access independence, we need to do a little better. We need to make sure that we have more
training and that those who are trained know how to work with children with autism.
Having, you know,
special education with backgrounds is great...
but when you walk into a doctor's office and say I have cancer
then we want to have a specialist that deals with cancer.
For our children we want to have
people who are at the top who have interacted and can create a curriculum for
students that have autism. And not just providing them support from an academic
standpoint, but all of the other things that go with it. You know, I have social issues with regard... so I can't communicate.
I'm not going to be able to access a
job because I can't talk to someone. I need to be able to
Get up and stand up and walk because sitting down for too long may affect my ability to concentrate.
I'm not able to regulate myself so having
specialists in place to understand all of these aspects of autism and can work through them so that child is benefiting from that
from a classroom and able to access all of the things that are necessary. A child that
accesses a classroom may be potty trained at one minute,
and then the next week they may not because of the way autism affects them. So
understanding that I may be a child or person walking to your school
but I have autism and it affects me differently and so having this
specialist in place, you can
create a curriculum that is going to affect and help me with all of my autism so that I can be successful in school.
[QIAN] Yeah, you definitely want our young people with autism to be
thriving. [THEA] Yeah, that's what we want for every
member of society. You know, there's a life after school that we're trying to make sure that these young people
can access. And so a number of them are not able to access anything after they leave.
When they're in those educational environments, they're not being
specific enough to how their
intellectual disability affects them. And so we want to change that today. We have specialists in place.
We're going to make sure that these children reach their potentials.
[QIAN] So we do have resources, but what if
you're unsure about the level of support that you are receiving?
[THEA] I think that parents definitely need to educate themselves about how their children learn and they also need to
their children...not being afraid to tell people that this is not enough for my child.
I know what my child is capable of so you need to push him/her a little harder. You need to increase
their abilities to access additional things. If technology is their thing
be able to push the system, or
educational and environment that they're in so that they are
creating a curriculum that will benefit that person as a whole so that they can reach their full potential.
Don't be afraid to say what your child needs.
As a taxpayer as someone who
knows, or wants the best for their child,
make sure that the environments that they are in, gives them that. Don't stop
pushing yourself and pushing others to improve on their services to provide more resources.
Make sure that the resources stay current because if you're not
doing that, you're putting yourself and your child at a disadvantage. And so in order to make sure that your child
gets what they need, you need to speak up and not be afraid that you'll lose something for sticking up for your child.
[QIAN] It takes a village... it takes a village and we are truly blessed to have a large village
with us on a daily basis.
The village is watching. How can the village help?
[THEA] When it comes to autism here in Bermuda,
people need to wake up.... autism is here, and it's not doing anywhere.
We have a large number of children and young adults and even
adults that have autism in Bermuda. And just because it has not touched you yet, it will touch you in some way.
Maybe your grandchild or your cousin or your uncle or
It's going to touch you so don't ignore it. Get
involved. Come and visit the facility Tomorrow's Voices to get a better understanding of what autism is.
Understand and see how much your resources from monetary to volunteerism
can help a child reach their next level. And by all means this is not cheap.
What we do here costs
thousands of dollars per month.
But the end result that's what we're working for, so money, your money
independence... it creates the ability for a child to access what they need so that they can not be a
burden on their community.
And if they are a burden, then it's less of a burden because you're teaching them key skills to make them more independent.
Yeah, do what you gotta do Bermuda because our children need you. They need to see examples of people being advocates
for their children because they are the next generation. [QIAN] Thank You Thea once again for taking a couple moments...
you wear many hats. Good luck to you, your
staff and your organization. Hopefully you continue to thrive as a support system for
Autism here in Bermuda. And also the hat of you as a parent.
This is not something that you're just talking about.... this is something that you and so many other parents like yourself
live with every day. You have our support and
let's do all that we can to help, to be more educated, to be more compassionate,
and to do all we can to set the stage for our young people.
[THEA] Thank you.