World Autism Day commemorated at Tuana'imato

Samoa marked World Autism Day with the event organisers hosting fun activities for children at the Football Federation fields at Tuanaimato.

Sponsored by Bluesky Samoa, local non-government organisation Senese in collaboration with Loto Taumafai, Australia Pacific Technical Coalition and partner service providers celebrated with a parents forum that revolved around the theme "assistive technologies, active participation".

According to Malama Parker of Senese, about 30 children diagnosed with autism are with their partnering schools or service providers.

"I’m not sure about the total number of autistic children in Samoa but I know with agencies that we work together, I believe there are about 30 children living with autism from young ages all up to old ages, with some who have even graduated from school," she said.

Some of the pupils have even been able to find jobs, despite their diagnosis, added Ms. Parker.

"Good news is that there are also others who are now employed. With one who works with the airline company working in the food preparation for flights area and others within the area of fine arts; they can be quite talented and we need to bring these talents forth."

Ms. Parker said the main challenge with autistic children is communication, as the way they process information is different, though she emphasised there is always a way to get through to them.

"Like today (Thursday), during the programme, one child just ran up to the microphone, said his name and went back down. They know what the program is, but in their own minds they have their own because the way they process information is different.

"They seem like they are doing something completely different but they follow everything and they are always learning," she added.

Another challenge was getting the children's parents to participate in such activities for the children. 

"For these kinds of important days, we really need the parents. We need them to come and participate and make them understand, but sadly we still see that they do not prioritize these kinds of activities for the children, thinking their work is more important and everything else.

"But its only once a year we try and come together to raise awareness and increase the understanding about autism. Because the work is not easy, I admit, but if you don’t have the heart for it, then you’re in the wrong place," she said. 

Ms. Parker stressed the importance of everyone's roles when it comes to engaging with the children, highlighting that special schools and teachers are not the only ones who should care, but also the families, communities and churches in order to contribute to the children's learning.

"We were all given a calling from God, even young children, that’s why it is very important that we give all the support we can for the autistic children so that they can feel important. 

"If we try to praise the children when they do something good, but if they don’t, give them your time to explain and tell them what they did wrong. Instead of grabbing things out of the child’s hand, let him talk on the mic, let him have his time, you know.

"Our country revolves so much around respect but that sort of hinders the empowerment of these children so that they can show their skills and praise them for it; and that’s how they learn to bring out their talent," she added.

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