April is Autism Acceptance Month and for Samoan mother-of-four, Jessie Taefu, this heightened awareness is a welcomed gesture for her family and the wider community.
Autism is a serious development disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. Jessie’s nine-year-old daughter, Hosanna-Grace, was diagnosed with autism four years ago. The Auckland mother says raising her four children has been a blessing but with her eldest having autism she has faced challenges that limit her daughter utilising opportunities that other children access easily.
“You don’t rest. You always feel like you’re having to fight just so your child has the resources and support that they are entitled to,” she says.
Early childhood teachers and paediatricians initially did not pick up that Hosanna-Grace had autism.
“We were initially told that there was nothing wrong with her,” explains Jessie. “My daughter was super quiet. She just sat in the corner and watched all the action.”
But once she was diagnosed, Jessie and her husband adapted quickly to ensure their daughter had the appropriate support and access to relevant health and learning services.
“Autism is a different way of looking at things. I’m always trying to understand how my daughter sees the world. They have a delicate way of life.
It’s about taking the time to realise that there is a way to approach and embrace this condition. You also realise that it’s more common than you think.”
Autism affects 1 In Every 100 New Zealanders and the cause is still uncertain.
Part of their family journey was joining the Pacific Autism Support Group (PASG), where Jessie and her husband met other Pacific parents with autistic children with the common goal to raise awareness amongst Pacific communities.
“It gave us the confidence to talk about it and be around other Pacific families who understood what we were going through. It was nice to know that there were other Pacific parents just like us and that we had a voice.”
Even her younger children are learning the valuable lesson of tolerance and acceptance in the way they engage with their older sister.
“I feel they have an awareness and sense of tolerance”.
Acknowledging Autism Acceptance Month, Jessie says it is a great time for people to become more aware of autism and have an openness to learn about the condition.
“Autism is not a special need but a special ability”.
Date: Wednesday 28 April 2021