Autism not a disability, but a different ability says Ngāti Whātua māmā

By Jessica Tyson

Ngāti Whatua mother Chachi Wiperi says having a daughter with autism has taught her that autism is not a disability, but a different ability.

Wiperi has four daughters, including her 15-year-old Haylaina who was diagnosed with autism at the age of six.

“Haylaina's special for a lot of things really but her main focuses are her artwork. She loves her artwork. That's her calming space, that's her creative space, that's where she is in her zone, says Wiperi.

“This goes back to four years old, three years old starting from the house walls to paper and now we're moving to the digital age.”

Artwork by Haylaina. Source: Instagram, @xkiri_angelx

It can often be difficult to find festival events to suit the needs of families with children with special needs. For that purpose, the Funfest event in Auckland included an invitational day today just for children with special needs and their families. It is the only annual Auckland summer event with free entry, free parking, free rides and free prizes. 

Wiperi and her whānau went along today. 

“It's beautiful to be able to be somewhere and not have to feel different especially for a mother, a mother's perspective to be able to just be. It's immeasurable in words.”

Doug Te Moni. Source: File

Organiser Doug Te Moni says Funfest gave an opportunity for children like Haylaina to become VIPs.

“The kaupapa basically, to ensure we cater to each one of our tamariki and their unique needs, whether that be trying to figure out how to get their wheelchair into a ride or making sure that we are speaking clearly enough and at a right tone as to not scare or shock our tamariki.”

Wiperi says it's important as a parent to realise that autistic children have a different way of understanding.

“Just because they don’t understand our world doesn’t mean they don’t understand. They just have a different way of understanding. Learning how to understand their world, you may not see it but they will eventually show you that it means the world to them.”

Wiperi has reached out to her iwi to make contact with Autism New Zealand to build on her daughter’s abilities.

“We have reached out to Whirinaki. They have helped us immensely with coping and learning how to talk with her and her world, how she would understand it. Also reached out to a course through her primary school that helped me learn what autism is.”

Funfest will be open to the public from tomorrow until the end of the week.