We have identified at least 14 young people with Autism aged 13 + who are currently in school here in Rarotonga and Aitutaki who would benefit from assistance and support to identify a clear plan to enter adulthood and live a more independent life. Autism Cook Islands aims to work with young people, their anau and the school to make the transition from school to adult life as easy as possible. The process is driven by the young person, supported by their family. They will be actively engaged in determining and implementing their future goals.

Through recent assessments of children in the Cook Islands on the autism spectrum, we identified a growing need to develop mechanisms to help these children develop the necessary social and communication skills for them to flourish in this world. Play based therapy is an effective way to do this.

Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to help children develop relationships and social/communication skills. Learning is integrated into the play which builds on autistic children’s own interests or obsessions. It is also a tool for helping parents learn to relate more fully to their children on the spectrum.

Our Learn to Swim programme offers subsidised swimming lessons to children with Autism in our community on Rarotonga. Learning to swim not only helps reduce the risk of accidental drowning, but can also bring confidence, and coordination into the lives of children living with autism.

The 6-week swimming programme is led by local swimming coach Leslie Chan and made possible by the generosity of Autism Cook Islands supporters. 

Lego therapy is an internationally proven approach for developing children’s social and communication skills. The shared focus on building using Lego, uses children’s strengths and helps them practise communication and social skills while having fun. Lego Master Builders‘ team-based approach encourages children to use verbal and nonverbal communication skills, take turns, share, and use problem-solving skills. We have identified lego educational resources suitable for each age stream. These range from teaching emotional awareness, simple machine building, introducing STEM and robotics. Meitaki maata to the Ministry of Internal Affairs Social Impact Fund for making this programme possible. 

Made possible with the assistance of the Cook Islands Gymnastics Federation and the generous support of the New Zealand High Commission the Autism Cook Islands Gymnastic Series series will help : 

  • develop children’s body awareness 
  • improve their health and fitness 
  • equip them to handle physical and emotional challenges 
  • Improve concentration and personal discipline 
  • Build child’s physical strength and co-ordination as motor skills is a struggle for children with Autism 
  • Develop cognitive abilities by brain development through movement 

We run regular Community Catchups for our Autism Community here in the Cook Islands. From Beach Days, Splash and Swims, Playground catchups we love providing a place for families to enjoy a little fellowship with others that are on the same journey.  Stay in touch with us through our Facebook page for information.  



This project involved the employment of a full-time speech therapist by Autism Cook Islands. This much needed pilot project was extremely successful and provided much-needed statistics to prove how much we are in need of this type of support on Rarotonga and the Pa Enua. It also proved the value of a full holistic approach to empower and provide sustainability of the programme. Autism Cook Islands received funding for this project from UNESCO, and we also partnered with local businesses and Cook Islands Government Partners; Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Pa Enua Island Governments, primary schools and colleges on Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Mangaia.


Our aim was to facilitate and organise a multi-disciplinary team of specialists to conduct Assessment and Diagnoses programmes with children on Rarotonga and Pa Enua. Autism Cook Islands was able to secure a fully qualified team of specialists from New Zealand to travel to Rarotonga to perform comprehensive assessments and diagnosis. This project ran in tandem with the communication project and worked perfectly. Having a full-time speech therapist on island prior and after the team came and left meant that the preparation work to develop a list of children that would require diagnosis was completed thoroughly and efficiently and any follow up was completed as well. View CITV report


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