Natasha Heaselgrave says her mission with her charity More4kids, which started four years ago, is to create brighter futures for children with autism. (Picture by Christoff Griffith.)
Natasha Heaselgrave and her company are committed to doing more for children. Through her charity More4kids, started four years ago, the mission is to create brighter futures for children with autism and to help them get a little further in life.
In an interview recently with EASY at the charity’s headquarters at Golf Club Road, Christ Church, Natasha said she decided to raise more awareness about autism and offer support to parents dealing with autistic children.
“I started the charity. I started in April for National Autism Awareness Month. I’m a behavioural analyst, so I work with children with autism. I started the charity because families with children already have struggles not just the therapy and paying for the multiple appointments. But home life is stressful, so what we decided to do was starting a charity to help pay for sessions and so on.”
“Initially we started out paying for the sessions for the children for a year. We paid for behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, anything that we could help with. Sometimes we paid for aids to go to school with the kids, and the goal was to give the parents a bit of ease to catch themselves to get ready for what’s next,” she explained.
Natasha said, things with the charity were going well so far and she especially loved seeing the progress of the children she worked with.
“For me, watching the difference on a video clip is overwhelming. One of the kids we work with refused to speak, then we used some sentence strips to help him now he would say some things and that’s going to help him progress.
“A lot of the children on a spectrum have things that create barriers for their learning, so they’re not going to learn to clap their hands if they’re not looking at you and so on.
“Research says there is a window and if you can get something in place before five and seven, the child has a better chance of progressing. If a child is throwing tantrums because he doesn’t speak, you have a better chance of teaching him younger that he can communicate with a device that’s called PEX or a board – it’s a method of communication. It’s a lot harder to teach a seven-year-old that’s used to throwing tantrums that,” Natasha explained.
However, due to lack of finance, the charity cannot help the full number of children they would love too.
“Our goal is four kids a year. This year we only have two because of funding. The funding comes from company donations. We haven’t branched out into events or anything yet. We are still very small. We don’t have any staff, everyone that works with the charity volunteers,” she said.
Still, Natasha praised her very hard-working team for their continued effort and support with the children.
“We have a very comprehensive board, which is exciting for me because it feels like I have more support. I have a lot of great colleagues with me who either work with the kids in programme or give advice on how to run it,” she added.
She said in addition to working with the children, her team’s main goal was to educate the general population in Barbados on what autism really is and the importance of being diagnosed from very early.
“I think here it’s a lack of awareness. People don’t understand what it is, what it looks like, what it means and so on. Just because a child is autistic doesn’t mean they can’t do things. They will always have limitations but everyone has limitations. Some kids, their goal is just to be able to tie their shoes, or feed themselves. With other kids, our goal is to get them to tell time and so on. Each child is completely different.
“When you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve just met one child with it. The characteristics are similar that’s how they’re diagnosed but it’s not a one size fits all at all,” she stressed.
“Some kids have physical differences; others don’t. I work with a family and we were walking through Sheraton and the little girl was throwing a tantrum every time we walked past a toy store. Mum used to walk her in but then she started throwing tantrums because she wanted something. And that wasn’t ever the deal.
“They had a school trip and the mum was nervous so we used to practise walking past the toy store she would lay on the floor and kick and scream. It was for attention because she wanted access to something that she couldn’t have.
“A lot of kids would do that. But in her case it continued and continued and got worse. A lady came up to us and said that child just needs a lash or if we send her home with her she would deal with it and the child would be fine. So it’s that little bit of misunderstanding that there’s more going on,” she explained.
Natasha said every April for Autism Awareness Month they run a campaign called Light It Up Blue, where they ask companies to turn on blue lights, a way for them to promote autism awareness.
She said they were also in the process of creating a support group so parents would have a medium to share their experience with each other.
“We want to start a parent support group because there’re a lot of parents dealing with stuff. We support parents as much as we can but we don’t go home with autistic children. We are the ones saying try this or that but we go home to a different environment. We can’t connect on that same level. So a support group would be good for them because some feel very alone,” she said.
In addition, Natasha said they were looking to expand even more in the near future.
“Barbados has limited resources but we do have resources. It’s just about getting all the info together and getting it out there. We have big plans. We want to eventually work with the ministry and get more information to them and so on. We are still small and we all have full-time jobs but we are a dedicated group,” she added. (DB)