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They were once denied residency in New Zealand because of their son’s autism, but one woman’s fight for the Tacchini family saw that decision overturned. Now, Yanina, Pablo, Ian, Bella and Rocco Tacchini are proud Kiwis, receiving New Zealand citizenship last month. Rebecca Ryan reports.

Eight years ago, Immigration New Zealand denied Ian Tacchini from residency with his family because of his autism.

Despite the Argentinian boy’s progress through various therapies, it was considered that he would impose undue costs and demands on New Zealand’s health and special education services.

Just four years old, he and his parents, Yanina and Pablo Tacchini, had been living in New Zealand for two years.

Mr and Mrs Tacchini were both working long hours in hospitality to pay for therapy and treatments for Ian, and loved their New Zealand life.

Mrs Tacchini was also pregnant with their second child, Bella, and said she had no strength to fight the decision.

But the late Jo Halkett did.

Mrs Halkett met the Tacchini family when Ian was diagnosed with autism, in her role with CCS Disability Action, providing support, advocacy and information for people with disabilities.

She appealed the residency decision to the Minister of Immigration and fought for Ian so he and his family could stay in New Zealand.

There was every possibility the appeal would not work and they would have been forced to return to Argentina when their work visas expired.

But it did – they were granted residency in 2011 and on February 18 this year they were sworn in as New Zealand citizens.

“We proved that we were doing a lot of work with Ian, that he was getting better – and got a yes,” she said.

“Now thinking, it was massive – we got declined and for him to now become a citizen is huge.

“Now Ian can have a good life here and Oamaru is such an amazing community for him, that’s why Oamaru was home from day one.”

Mrs Halkett died in 2014. She had been suffering from a rare lung disease and form of lymphoma.

It was because of her the Tacchini family could become New Zealand citizens and Mrs Tacchini said last month’s citizenship ceremony was tinged with sadness as the family remembered Mrs Halkett’s kindness, love and support on their journey.

The Tacchini family’s connection with Oamaru started in 2002 when Mrs Tacchini came to New Zealand as an exchange student, studying at Waitaki Girls’ High School for her final year of school and boarding with local couple Ross and Lenore Middlemiss.

“The Middlemiss’ took me all around the country . . . it was the best year of my life, that’s why I always wanted to come back.”

After her year-long exchange, she returned to Argentina to study cinematography and later worked in television.

Mr and Mrs Tacchini met in Argentina when they were young and reconnected when Mrs Tacchini went to university.

“It’s funny, there are 37 million, or more now, in the country and I ended up in the same classroom at university as one of Pablo’s best friends,” she said.

“Suddenly I connected with him again after four or five years.”

They married two years later.

Mr and Mrs Middlemiss came to their wedding in Argentina and, a few years later, the Argentinian couple decided to visit Oamaru for a holiday with their 18-month-old son, Ian.

“We just fell in love with New Zealand, so we stayed,” she said.

Mr Tacchini started working as a chef at Fleur’s Place, then Riverstone Kitchen.

“That was when Ian started to display autistic behaviours,” she said.

“We had a one-year work visa, then a two year work visa – and between that we got the diagnosis of autism.”

Doctors told them Ian might not ever speak, or be comfortable socialising with other children.

But after years of battles with specialists, therapy, support from the community and a lot of patience, Ian had come a long way.

He has finished his Applied Behavioural Analysis [ABA] therapy, he is enjoying Weston School and is mainstream “99.9% of the time”.

“For everything they told us he’ll never be, he’s the opposite,” she said.

Mrs Tacchini has been open about her fight for expensive therapies for Ian, and the struggles of raising a child with autism.

“For me, making his life public – some people didn’t like it,” she said.

But so many people now knew Ian – the community understood him, were patient with him and they cared for him, she said.

“That makes him feel part of the community, that makes him feel happy, because they all know his story, because I’m so public,” she said.

“Therapy helped him a lot, but I think the whole community helps, too .. for me, that he feels loved in this community, that made a huge difference.

“Hopefully, in the future he will be able to have a job and to be part of this community – because he has so much to offer.”

Mrs Tacchini said she couldn’t comprehend the impact leaving New Zealand and moving back to Argentina would have had on her family’s life – especially Ian’s.

From struggling to make ends meet in Argentina, they now own their own home in Oamaru, and two years ago, bought Cucina restaurant and its neighbouring cafe, Tees St Cafe.

Their three children Ian (12), Bella (8) and Rocco (5) all attend Weston School and love small-town New Zealand life.

“I always saw myself living in New York, in a big city, and I ended up in a really, really small town having three children and owning a restaurant,” Mrs Tacchini said.

“It hasn’t been easy . . . but we couldn’t be happier.”