Mother calls for autism support
A mother is calling on the Government to provide more support for parents raising autistic children and a greater focus on inclusiveness for children with the disorder.
Seulupe Michelle Macdonald raises her son Tafa, who was diagnosed as autistic in 2017.
Tafa did not speak in sentences until he was about eight years old, she says.
She was approached by a preschool teacher while living in Fiji if it was okay for a specialist to access Tafa. he was not attending class for three months and was always in the sandpit and on the swings with his nanny.
The specialist teacher had eventually identified him on the autism spectrum.
Seulupe told the Samoa Observer in an interview on Saturday morning that there is not enough awareness in Samoa.
"There is a big need," she said.
"And a lot of people don't fully understand how to interact and appreciate the uniqueness of these children. Because some of them like my son, he's not physically disabled but his ability to connect and hold attention in a conversation is very different.
Seulupe stated that she needed to change her way of connecting to him in order for Tafa to understand her.
She added that Tafa has been attending Robert Louis Stevenson Primary School since year one and had to work with the school so that they made him feel included, which has now gone to know his peers.
"So the support from his level has been really good so that's part of the reason why I didn't wanna move him away but we really struggled when we recently came back and we hardly, there wasn't a lot of schools that offered inclusiveness and at the time Tafa wasn't as verbal,' she said.
"So on the autism spectrum, it's quite diverse and Tafa is what they call mild. So they say mildly it's like he's able to converse and tell you like "Are you happy", he'll say yes or no. Whereas other kids on the autism spectrum, they probably don't, are not, you can only utter the words or they can only make sounds but they can communicate."
In terms of teachers, Seulupe said that it was very difficult at the beginning because you need a specialised teacher, and a lot of patience as their pace is not the same as others.
She also added that you need to go down to their level and would also need to place a framework as these children are highly intelligent.
Seulupe is also thankful for the support she has received from the Principal and the school board.
"And just for the support, because as parents that's what we need, is support and understanding," she said.
She explained that Tafa had a brilliant teacher in year 2 who was a game changer as she had integrated him.
"So in Robert Louis, they have what they call sharing news [...] where they talk about sharing the news. Tafa it's natural for him to share news. For me to get him to that stage is really like well, it's another level," she said.
She explained that Tafa was once introverted but has now gained a lot of confidence in what he does, which she had seen while Tafa was sharing news in a class activity at the front of the class.
According to Seulupe, Tafa is also fearless and is protective of his twin brother Poi. She shared that there was once a time at the pools where Tafa did not want to go to the kid's pool and went into the adult's pool, trying to swim in the deeper section.
Seulupe said that Samoa is in need of a child psychologist.
"We definitely need more psychologists, particularly child psychologists. Autism is a lot about the neurological of the brain and the way it functions. Another thing we really need is a behavioral specialist. We don't have that," she said.
She added that Papalii Malietoa von Reiche had also worked a lot on Tafa's cognitive development.
She said that these children do not understand the boundaries, and people need to set boundaries in a safe environment for their children to be able to adjust and not harm themselves and not harm anybody else.
"families need support here and [...] there's a big need. I'm sure there's so many undetected cases,' she said.
She is of the view that there is a greater need in schools to be more inclusive. Seulupe also thinks that there is a need to have more specialists, and has highlighted the work being done by organisations such as Aoga Fiamalamalama and Loto Taumafai.
"We're under resourced in Samoa and we don't have a lot of support and we definitely need to make a change," she said.
"We have to, because there's so many kids out there who are brilliant but they just need that support. Families need support, it's such a big thing for families, we don't have enough of it."
She explained that her sister's daughter is autistic, and her sister had to make a lot of sacrifices such as giving up her job to support her child at home. Now her niece is within the top level of her school in New Zealand and is now independent and self-confident.
Seulupe said that support and the right environment is needed to nurture these children as one day they might become engineers or doctors.