Switching 'special needs' to tamaiti whakapepeha?

By Tumamao Harawira

The term 'special needs' in education can mean a range of things but it is usually children with learning difficulties.

Now Ngā Pouwhirinaki, the Māori Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) has been given a potential new Māori word 'tamaiti whakapepeha', which focuses on where a child comes from rather than a term that has a negative connotation.

The RTLB began its annual general meeting today at Ngā Kete Wānanga Marae on the MIT campus in Ōtara, and it's the first time members have had a chance to meet since Covid-19 hit.

The group was set up in 1999, dedicated to helping children who suffer from a range of issues such as special needs/neurodiverse conditions [ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, FASD] and tamariki affected by trauma, deafness or vision impaired [he maha].

Schools from around the country have been grouped together into 40 regional clusters and although there is little data, according to Chris Graham, head of the RTLB Māori, they see a lot of Māori and Pasifika children.

Time for change?

'Children of tribal heritage'

"Because we are in clusters, we don't necessarily get all the data from other clusters, though we get a sense. For example, in our cluster, we're probably looking at around 60-70% Māori and Pasifika."

Professor Taiarahia Black from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi was invited to speak at the conference, and he suggested a new term for children with 'special needs'.

"Take that word away: They actually come from their tribal heritage, children of tribal heritage."

And while the term is, at this point in time, only a suggestion, Graham says tamaiti whakapepeha better reflects what tamariki with special abilities are.

"It's one of those things, when you see it in front of you it's the last thing you want to talk about."