Portrait photo of Josh Smith.Fourth Year medical student Joshua Smith says he is honoured to be part of the first stage of this research to identify what is known about services and supports for Autistic Pacific People’ and their understanding and perspectives of autism.   His 10-week project involved reviewing existing literature. He hopes the project he began will one day result in better outcomes for Autistic people.

“As a medical student I appreciate how important research is to ensure treatment and outcomes for patients keep evolving and improving. My supervisors are amazing and I learnt a lot about doing research from them.

“My family are from Papua New Guinea so it’s nice I am involved in something that could progress an aspect of Pasifika health.”

Smith’s research project was funded by the Research for Children Aotearoa collaboration which brings universities, organisations, and communities together for research that improves children’s health, well-being and educational outcomes. The project was part of the University of Otago, Christchurch’s annual Future Health Researchers programme where students get to experience doing research with expert mentors.

Smith was supervised by University of Canterbury autism researcher Professor Laurie McLay and paediatrician at the University of Otago Professor Tony Walls.

Smith’s supervisor Professor McLay has spent years studying the health and well-being of neurodivergent children and leads development of a range of digital supports for autistic tamariki and their caregivers.

She says Joshua’s project is the start of a collaborative research project, with Pacific researchers throughout New Zealand, to get a clearer picture of Pasifika People’s and autism. Funded by Research for Children Aotearoa the project pulls in experts from the Universities of Canterbury, Otago and Victoria University of Wellington in health, Pasifika, and education.

“There is not a lot of research in this area so we want to start by better understanding the prevalence of autism among Pacific People’s, how this compares to the wider population, what is known about diagnostic and support services and whether there are difference in the understanding and experiences of among Pacific People’s.”

Professor Walls is one of the leaders of Research for Children Aotearoa.  He says this project is a good example of universities working together to produce the best outcomes for children. Research for Children for Aotearoa facilitates this collaboration.