Helping build greater autism awareness across the British Virgin Islands

Virgin Unite_Secret Agent Society_SAS
Secret Agent Society
Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
5 April 2019
Dr Renae Beaumont is a Professor of Psychology, close friend of Virgin Unite, and leader in the world of autism treatment.

Renae is devoted to improving the mental health and wellbeing of children, adolescents and adults. Her game-changing programmes are helping individuals all over the world who are on the spectrum – along with the family members and professionals who support them.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Secret Agent Society (SAS) – Renae’s flagship programme helping children with social-emotional challenges such as autism crack the code of emotions and friendships.

SAS encourages young people to feel more empowered and resilient – helping them pursue their own pathway, strengths and interests. With the ongoing help of dedicated SAS providers, families and teachers, the programme continues to be a success all over the globe.

Renae first met with Virgin Unite in early 2017 and since then her incredible work, compassion, and commitment to helping people in need has inspired us greatly.

After Hurricane Irma devastated the BVI in late 2017 Renae offered to assist Virgin with our community rebuild efforts across the BVI. Her help and ongoing support has been truly exceptional.

“The devastation was total, and so hard to comprehend. Lives were lost, many homes flattened and entire communities uprooted," said Richard Branson in the hurricane aftermath. "The force of nature’s fury was a powerful reminder that humanity is paying a terrible price for the way we treat our beautiful planet."

Renae heard that local mental health and social workers on the BVI were overwhelmed with the stress being felt across the community, she saw an opportunity to help, and got right on with it. On December 6 in 2018, Renae collaborated with Unite BVI, the Ministry of Health and Social Development, the BVI Health Services Authority and the Social Skills Training Institute to deliver a first-of-its-kind workshop on autism on the British Virgin Islands.

“Renae embodies the means to a better world we strive to create at Virgin Unite. She started building a workshop for local health professionals the moment we told her about the mental health issues arising in the aftermath of the hurricane. In the years we’ve know her, she has always been the first to volunteer her expertise to support communities around the world. Imagine how many problems we could tackle if, like Renae, everyone applied even a small piece of their skills and time to creating change,” said Katie Hunt Morr, director of community at Virgin Unite.

The workshop covered, amongst other things, how to use the SAS Computer Game Pack to upskill and support children with social‐emotional learning challenges.

“What excites me most about these workshops is how empowered the staff and families feel immediately after learning new skills and treatment methods. There are so many enjoyable experiences and connections to be built from learning these skills and learning how to express emotions more effectively,” said Renae.

Teachers, social workers and mental health professionals attended and learnt about the diagnosis of autism, tools for assessment, and how to use children’s strengths to engage them in social‐emotional skills learning. Participants also learnt how to use the SAS Computer Game Pack in a fun and flexible way to support their existing work with children and families.

“It’s key for communities in the BVI to build greater awareness and continue to focus on autism detection at a young age. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical for young people to achieve their full potential. My hope is that these workshops provide the appropriate screening tools to help educators and mental health workers to notice signs and feel confident discussing referral pathways, “said Renae.

The results were incredibly positive, with participants reporting extremely high ratings of satisfaction. Participants also reported feeling adequately informed, prepared for training and considered the SAS computer game appropriate and effective for their workplace.