Home   Profile   Autism Training in Samoa

Autism Training in Samoa

Jessamy Amm in Samoa

“I was hesitant about doing a short-term training session, because I didn’t know what the long-term benefits would be. However, we were all reduced to tears at the end of the week when each CBR team member shared the biggest thing they had learned from the training. We were incredibly humbled to play a very small part in validating what the team already knew and were doing, as well as providing some additional training.”

Jessamy Amm
(Speech-Language Therapist | TalkLink Trust)

In October 2014, our team of four—consisting of an occupational therapist, specialist teacher, and two speech-language therapists—flew from New Zealand to Samoa to spend four days with the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) team at Loto Taaumafai. The trip was organised through Altus Resource Trust to provide training on communication, learning, and sensory processing for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They regularly send teams to the Pacific Islands to provide training to the teams based in those countries.

The Loto Taumafai Society for People with Disabilities was established in 1989, with an early intervention team of approximately 10 field workers who provide therapy support for children with disabilities on both islands of Samoa. Since schools do not have facilities to manage children with complex needs, the society’s mission is to “provide access to inclusive, equitable and quality education and support services for all people with disabilities in Samoa.” The Altus team helped CBR field workers supporting those children.

Our First Day in Samoa
The first day was spent at the centre doing role play using visual schedules, core boards, timers, choosing boards, and discussing sensory processing. The following three days were spent visiting children in their homes and supporting the team to problem-solve, set goals, and start implementing some of the resources they learned about on the first day. The Altus team provided training to CBR community workers in English, who then went into homes to work with families in Samoa.

The CBR team have not had any formal training, yet were expected to be physical therapists, occupational therapist, speech-language therapists, teachers, and advocates for these students. They are doing an incredible job not only of supporting children with disabilities and their families, but also changing the view of disability in Samoan culture.

Our Most Memorable Highlights
One highlight from the trip was seeing a six-year-old girl intentionally point to “more” in order to request bubbles after just 10 minutes of modelling on a core communication board. She then generalised her skills by requesting “more” bouncing on the swiss ball and then eye pointed to “finished” when she wanted to walk away. The CBR team was excited to see one of the strategies work so quickly for this little girl.

Another highlight was the peaceful silence of a young lady with multiple complex communication, physical, and sensory needs. When the team first arrived at the house she was head-banging, crying, and screaming. Her grandmother was exhausted and expressed frustration and helplessness. Some of the team pieced together a wheelchair from bits and pieces in the CBR workshop, while the rest of the team problem-solved her sensory and communication needs. Using sensory strategies, she quietened and was able to make eye contact and eye track. Her grandmother had tears in her eyes and expressed her thanks at being able to take her granddaughter to the local market in her wheelchair, and for ideas on how to help to calm her.

Short-Term Training Can Be Beneficial
I was hesitant about doing a short-term training session, because I did not know what the long-term benefits would be. However, we were all reduced to tears at the end of the week when each CBR team member shared the biggest thing they had learned from the training. As a team, we were incredibly humbled that we were able to play a very small part in validating what the team already knew and were doing, as well as providing some additional training. I am pleased that Altus Trust will continue to support the CBR team by sending other teams to provide further training in the future.

Photograph by Alana Glover (Occupational Therapist; Wilson School)

Originally written for Communication Matters (Summer 2014) | New Zealand Speech-language Therapists’ Association