Autism Connex: Our Story

Firefighters Blake Marston, left, and Nick Hackling prepare for the car wash fundraiser with with Victorhea Tongi, 9. 8 November 2017.

Co-organiser of The Sapphire Ball, Theresa Tongi is in preparation mode before the big night. 11 April 2018 .

From Theresa

“At the age of 5, our daughter Victorhea had a dream that her little brother Henry who was 3 years of age at the time would have a place to go where being Autistic didn’t matter. She shared this dream with me on the way to school one morning and said that I needed to do something to make it happen. She spoke with such authority and conviction that I knew at that very moment a seed had been planted.

When our second son Andrew was diagnosed a year later, our world was rocked and changed for ever. The dreams we had for our boys and all that we had hoped for seemed to slip away right before our eyes. Why us? What does this mean?

Over the past 6 years, life for our family has been for the most part, a very challenging journey. We know how vitally important it is for parents to get a break from the day to day challenges of raising children with special needs. Our experiences from the early stages of diagnosis to finding out what services and supports are available for our family, have motivated us to provide that place of belonging for other ASD families.

What if there was a place where families like ours could go and relax for a moment? A place where we don’t have to say sorry all the time. A place where our boys can run around and play with all the light switches and it wouldn’t matter. A place where behaviours aren’t judged. Somewhere safe.

In 2014, inspired by Victorhea’s dream, the Autism Connex vision was born. Our story has evolved around our own personal journey with our two son’s Henry and Andrew. Our lived experience as parents has motivated us to see this vision of a purpose-built Autism Spectrum Centre become a reality here in Taranaki.

Today, Autism Connex is a non-profit organisation supporting families who have children/teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Connex Trust was established in 2018 and is a registered charity with a board of 11 Trustees who include, ASD parents, local business owners, educators, Police and medical professionals (Paediatrician and an Orthopaedic Surgeon). Our newly appointed Patron is Sir Michael Jones.

For the past four years, Autism Connex has supported more than 80 Taranaki families and is currently working with the Taranaki District Health Board to develop support groups and resources, free monthly respite care sessions and workshops for families.  In 2019, Autism Connex will introduce additional events to cater for all our family members. These include, Mums night out, Morning Coffee Group, Mens Breakfast, and support for siblings.

Due to the challenges of raising children with ASD, many of our parents and their siblings, often feel isolated and disconnected with family and friends. Families experience high levels of stress due to the ongoing challenges like, sleep deprivation, lack of school support, financial hardship which can often put a strain on marriages and relationships. It is believed that up to 80% of marriages end in divorce for ASD families.

The Autism Connex family day is a free monthly event for ASD families living in Taranaki. We create a safe environment for our families to meet with others who understand their unique journey. At the same time, our children and their siblings enjoy a time to play and socialise with others in a safe and friendly environment where they can be themselves and their behaviours are not judged. This event is made possible by a dedicated team of 20 volunteers.

The various groups and events offered by Autism Connex will continue to help support and enhance the wellbeing of all our family members.”

Our Board

  • Theresa Tongi


    Theresa is of Samoan decent from the village of Vai'ee, Moata'a and Alamagoto, born and raised in West Auckland. When two of Theresa's children were diagnosed with ASD, she resigned…...

  • Fiona Elliot

    Originally from Taranaki, Fiona recently returned to New Plymouth after 12 years overseas. As a mum of three boys, two of whom have been diagnosed with ASD, she understands how…...

  • Emma Cluett

    I grew up in Papakura and trained in medicine and paediatrics in Auckland. Taranaki is now my home and were I live with my little whānau. I trained in developmental…...

  • Karen McEldowney

    I enjoy the opportunity to use my graphic design, marketing and business skills to give back to a cause that benefits the community in such a meaningful way. Theresa inspires…...

  • Andrew and Karen Glenny

    Andrew is a local orthopaedic surgeon and Karen is a nurse, who spends the majority of her time raising their two children – Isaac (21) and Samantha (19). “We were…...

  • Claire Maaka

    Claire Maaka My name is Claire Maaka. Myself and my husband Dion have two children Jake (12) and Aliyah (10). Aliyah was diagnosed with Autism at 2 and is non…...

  • Pat Tongi

    Patrick and his wife, Theresa have four children, two are Autistic. He loves serving his community through Autism Connex and as a Police Officer in New Plymouth. Patrick is of…...

  • Dion Maaka

    Dion Maaka (Ngāruahine) is Taranaki born and raised. With a Bachelor of Business Studies and a wealth of management experience, Dion has utilised his skills across the globe, and back…...

  • Jolene Stockman

    Jolene is an award-winning Taranaki writer, speaker, and business owner. She is also takiwātanga; autistic. Since her adult diagnosis, she has gone public with her experience - its challenges and…...

What our parents are saying