HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 586: 19 October 2011

Autism awareness and education
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is not widely known about here in the Cook Islands, however many Cook Islanders deal with it on a daily basis, with approximately 18 children who have been diagnosed with autism living in Rarotonga, and many more undiagnosed cases both on Rarotonga and in the outer islands, according to secretary for Autism Cook Islands, Gloria Rarere. Autism Cook Islands is a community-based organisation formed to provide support for families living with family members who have been diagnosed with autism. Rarere described the organisation as “mainly a support group for parents, but if we need to assist people out there in the community who don’t understand how to work with a child with autism, we go out and provide some assistance with that.”
The group, made up mostly of parents with one or more children diagnosed with autism, meets once a month to discuss issues they face as parents raising children with autism. The group also focuses on educating the community about autism. Last year Rarere hosted workshops on Mauke with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) consultant, Andrea Graham. On Mauke alone Rarere and Graham became aware of approximately nine undiagnosed cases of autism with ages of those varying from as young as 13 to as old as 26. Undiagnosed autism prevents parents from getting the help they need, according to Rarere, but unfortunately diagnosis of autism is not currently possible in the Cook Islands. “We can’t diagnose here - we need a person who is qualified to do it. Once you get diagnosed properly you know how to look after [the children] properly.”
A major issue faced by parents of autistic children is education and awareness amongst educators. Rarere commented, “A lot of teachers that I have come across don’t know what autism is. So you have to teach the teacher about our children.” She says more training for educators is necessary in order to better the quality of education being given to autistic children. “Our children need [a lot of] one on one time and it’s very hard to find people here. Especially because they need a teacher aide who can understand how they learn. That alone is a problem in itself, because I don’t think there is anyone here that can train [the teachers].”
Laisiasa Merumeru, Inclusive Education Advisor for the Ministry of Education, has finalised the Cook Islands Inclusive Education Policy. The policy was developed by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Rarere was a member of the board for the development of the policy, and said that the policy was formed to address the needs of those with disabilities, including autism, “from birth, right to school age and then after school.” She expressed that the policy is a positive step, however stressed that early diagnosis of autism in children was vitally important to give the children and their parents a head start. “It’s a step forward, but there is work to be done. If we could diagnose the child early and help the parents find assistance, then the child has a better outlook going forward.”
Rarere emphasised that the wider community has a role to play by making sure those living with autism feel included, both in the classroom and out in the community, since this is a major contributor to improvement in those with autism. “Cook Islanders are very understanding if they are made aware and I think if [those with autism] feel included they will automatically learn.” While progress has been made through the work the group is doing, Rarere expressed that there is still work to be done. “It’s hard but I think we’ve done ok so far. I think of the children that I know, they’re actually improving - slowly but surely.” For more information on the group contact Gloria at tiateura@oyster.net.ck.
-Ngariki Ngatae

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

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