Autism profile – Trisha Toreka Lealiifano-Mariota

Autism profile – Trisha Toreka Lealiifano-Mariota

Our last community profile for the month is . Trisha is the co-leader of the Pasifika Autism Support Group PASG in Wellington. The group works with Pasifika families to provide support and advice. Trisha also has an autistic son, Joziah. You can find more info about PASG on their Facebook page:

Trisha answered a few questions for us:

*Tell us a bit about the work you do with the Pasifika autistic community?

Talofa my name is Trisha Toreka Lealiifano-Mariota. My husband Martin and I are parents to Joziah who is 10 years old and has autism and global development delay.
As a qualified ECE Teacher I saw how important early intervention was for our tamaiti especially our children on the autism spectrum. This encouraged me to continue advocating for our Pasifika tamaiti in this space. I was given an opportunity to be part of the Education Psychology Team at Victoria University in 2017 and became a certified ESDM Early Intervention Therapist. I am also an Autism Specialist Facilitator for Altogether Autism delivering Professional Development to professionals that work within the autistic community. As a parent to an autistic child, I am part of the VUW (Victoria University of Wellington) Autism Clinic Advisory Group. Being part of these spaces has allowed me to understand more about the autism space and contribute through my Pasifika lenses. Martin and I co-lead the Pasifika Autism Support Group (PASG) in Wellington. PASG was founded by Betty and Brian Pulefolau in Auckland who were inspired by their autistic son Roman to create a support group for Pacific families in Auckland. PASG Wellington hosted its first Sensory Movie Screening in 2019 attracting families with Autistic children to experience the ‘movies’ in a safe environment. PASG Wellington have continued to create events for our families so they can come together in a safe space to support each other, talanoa and share their journeys. It’s at these events we educate, advocate and raise awareness for our autistic tamaiti and aiga.
Check out one of our Family events

*What inspired you to start working with autistic people and their families?

Our main inspiration is our son Joziah who was diagnosed in 2015. As Pasifika people we were looking for support around autism that could help up navigate this newfound journey we were on. However, we found it difficult to find a support group that was responsive to our identity as Pasifika people. We also realised that it was quite common for parents specifically Pasifika parents to find it difficult to navigate access or to be aware of the supports that are available. Throughout our journey we were fortunate to meet with Betty and Brian Pulefolau who are the founders of the Pasifika Autism Support Group (PASG) in Auckland who encouraged and supported us to initiate a PASG branch here in Wellington.

*How do you apply a Pacific cultural approach to the work you do?

Our approach as Pasifika people are based on the following:
Our Culture
Our Language
Our Family
Our Faith – Spirituality
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes community/a team to enable an individual’s success.
For Pasifika people it is all about creating safe spaces with trusted faces. Through our PASG branch we have delivered several family fun events with a Pasifika flavour. It is common for parents to not only bring the children with autism but also their extended family. For Pasifika people this is important because the family is their support network. Therefore, our events cater to big families attending even if it is only to support one child on the spectrum. Food is also very important in this respect as well. In addition to this approach, rather than sitting parents down for a workshop we deliver our events at places such as Chipmunks which keep the children occupied while we go around and sit and have talanoa with parents individually. Once we build that trust and relationship we direct them to specialists who we have invited for the parents to have a talanoa when they feel comfortable.

*What is some of the advice you have for Pacific families out there who are looking for support or advice on autism?

You are not alone, there are support groups out there who can speak to your unique journeys.
Trying to navigate through the world of autism can be overwhelming, so take your time and don’t rush through the process. Make sure you have someone to talanoa to and that is what PASG is here for. In Auckland we have Betty and Brian Pulefolau along with their team Melanie Su’a and Donna Cowley. In Wellington we have Daniel and Anna Filemoni and Melemo Siakumi-Mataele.

*It is autism awareness month, so what message do you think it is important for people to know about the autistic community?

Every child is unique and every journey that parents and families go through are
unique as well. Don’t compare your child or your journey to anyone else but embrace your own unique journey with your child.

“Autism is not a disability, it is a different ability”