Whānau finds autism is a gift from Atua Māori

By D'Angelo Martin

A Hamilton Māori family is on a mission to raise awareness of what it's like living with a child with autism.

Jess Hita and Tuhoro Kereru Paki are the parents of Te Aurere who is four years old and autistic. The whānau created a Facebook page "Living with Takiwātanga" as a safe forum for parents who relate to raising a child with autism. 

Te Aurere has a developmental disorder that affects the child's communication and social interaction with others. However, Te Aurere parents Jess Hita and Tuhoro Paki think otherwise. "We don't view it in the western worldview as such in terms of autism so much. It's viewed as a disorder or a disability something along those lines," Paki says.

"Te Aurere is extremely active, he is always on the go. He loves the taiao and he is so in tune with nature. He's really loving. I think he loves his whānau so much." Hita says.

It was in 2019 when Jess and Tuhoro found out that Te Aurere was autistic. But at first they remained in denial. "Te Aurere would've been about 2 when we found out. Our initial reaction was just being really scared," Hita says.
    
"It was the fear of the unknown so the anxiety levels were through the roof for us. That was something that was really challenging facing the diagnosis," Paki says.

They say the fear of the unknown, and anxiety for parents dealing with their children having autism is real. And from that came their Facebook page "Living with Takiwātanga" to address the issue.

Atua Māori gift

"That's one of the core reasons why we wanted to start sharing our journey because we just wanted to bring awareness of takiwātanga and what it was. A lot of whānau have reached out and say "hey my daughter does that or my son does that." It's just bringing light to things that may be,"  Hita says.

Māori ancestors believed that a child who was born with autism was special and a gift from the Atua Māori. Jess and Tuhoro are strong believers of that concept when it comes to Te Aurere.

"For us in terms of Takiwātanga we sort of see it as a gift from our atua from our tupuna and ensure that we do support him in that sense. We've come to the realisation that we are the lucky ones to have them in our lives and I truly believe we were chosen to be Te Aurere parents and I think every other parent would feel the same as well," Paki says.

They have had the opportunity to share their journey at multiple events. "The invitations to attend different kaupapa and hui was the opportunity to share our understanding and to share our experiences. That was the intent when attending these kaupapa. It was to share our whakaaro and to help up skill the next generation of teachers and whānau," Hita says.

Te Aurere may have a different perspective, a different opinion and different behaviour. But that won't stop him from conquering the obstacles in his life.