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Swimming and Lego Masters programme for autistic kids announced

Monday 20 February 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National


Swimming and Lego Masters programme for autistic kids announced
Autism Cook Islands swimming lessons are underway at Social Centre on Monday and Wednesday. PHOTO: CALEB FOTHERINGHAM/ 22022330

Autism Cook Islands (ACI) is excited to announce their swimming and Lego Masters programmes for preschool/primary aged children and the 12 years + age group, some of which started last week.

The swimming lessons for preschool/primary age children are scheduled to start today 3pm at the Social Centre in Nikao.

Last week, swimming lessons for the 12 years and over age group started at Aroa Beach.

There are around 50 families on the Autism Cook Islands register throughout Rarotonga and the Pa Enua.

Kat Jensen, the programme manager for Autism CI, said: “As we build more awareness and acceptance in the community this number is growing.”

Autism Cook Islands is an incorporated society established in 2017, committed to fulfilling their vision to bring out the best, and empower persons who have Autism and their families, enabling them to live enriched, meaningful and fulfilling lives and to maximise their quality of life.

In June 2022, Autism CI officially opened its Hub in Matavera, located across the road from Mama Tua Turepu’s fresh produce stall, to cater for members of the Autism community here in the Cook Islands.

“We are running our Lego Masters sessions from our Hub, and we are also looking at running a cooking programme as part of our Term 2 programme,” said Jensen.

“Our Hub has a fantastic resource library that is available for our parents and families to access,” she added.

This year Autism CI has several sports courses lined up which include Lego Masters, Swimming, Rugby, Cricket, and Badminton in collaboration with the respective sports federations.

“These are part of our play therapy programme which focuses on building social communication and interaction for our children,” said Jensen.

“Children learn through play and these programmes help them to move beyond autism’s self-absorption into real, shared interaction, play therapy also allows them to explore their feelings, their environment and their relationships with others.”

The swimming programme is facilitated by the Cook Islands Aquatics Federation’s Kieran and Leslie Chan at a cost of $30 per child. The total cost of the sessions is $60 and are subsidised by Autism Cook Islands. 

For the preschool/primary age programme, a parent/caregiver must be in the water with the pre-school children.

These lessons are held at the Social Centre on Monday’s at 3pm – February 20 and 27, and March 6, 13, 20 and 27.

The 12+ age group’s six-week swimming series is also facilitated by the Aquatics Federation with the help of volunteers Grete Fevang and Pete Jones.

These are held at 3.30pm on Wednesdays – February 15, 22, and March 1, 8, 15, 22 at Aroa Beach (next to The Rarotongan).

The children’s Lego Masters eight-week programme is facilitated by Lani Vano, the Autism Cook Islands out-reach co-ordinator, and assisted by volunteers Penny Murray, Aporo Vano, Joelle Tinirau and Sahara Lang.

Lego Masters for children is held on Saturdays – February 18, 25, March 4, 11, 18, 25, and April 1, 8 – from 10.15am to 11am at the Autism Hub.

Vano is also the facilitator for the 12+ eight-week Lego programme assisted by volunteers Penny Murray, Maki Tipokoroa, Grete Fevang and Sahara Lang

These classes are held from 9am to 10am on Saturdays – February 18, 25, March 4, 11, 18, 25, and April 1, 8 – also at the Hub.

Please confirm if you wish for your child to attend the above programmes via the Autism CI email or by calling phone 73141.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder. It is recognised that autism is a spectrum, meaning that everyone has unique strengths and challenges.

People with autism have strengths and difficulties in different areas which affect their lives differently. No two people on the spectrum are alike. However, for someone to be diagnosed with autism, they will have a difficulty or delay in two main areas of functioning – communication and social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour.

“Acceptance is the key” is Autism Cook Islands’ motto.

  • Melina Etches