Indigenous | Takiwātanga

Matariki ideal time to learn about autism from a Māori world view

This story first appeared on Stuff.

Auckland woman Tamara Grant welcomes Matariki and appreciates what it signifies as a time of reflection, celebration and preparation.

As someone with autism, she says that Matariki also serves as a reminder that anyone is capable of creating meaningful change, a message she hopes other tāngata whaikaha Māori, and people with disabilities, will align with.

Grant, 24, is the founder of Xabilities, an organisation dedicated to supporting neurodiverse people.

“The name is based off X-Men. I watched it when I was young and thought, that could be us. We need a system that supports people’s natural thinking. A system that supports takiwātanga [autism] and acknowledges we do things differently, in our own way, in our own time

Grant (Uenuku) started the organisation first as a youth group when she was just 13 years old before registering it as a company at 17.

The now 24-year-old said growing up with autism was difficult.

“I was a very passionate child but I didn’t get educational support. There was little on the diagnosing system and they kept telling me I was mentally unwell.

“I tried to work for autistic charities and got declined. They didn’t think I was that autistic because I’m an attractive young girl.”

For Grant, embracing the reo Māori for autism - takiwātanga - helped with how she perceived the diagnosis.

The Māori term, which means “in their own time and space”, to describe autism was coined in 2020 by author Keri Opai.

“There’s a different lens in Māori culture towards takiwātanga. My whānau didn’t understand the need for a diagnosis at first, but then saw how it helped me and how much extra support I needed.

“But, what I value from that Māori perspective is, my whānau didn’t see me as less. Whereas my European side needed to see the diagnosis wasn’t all of me.”

According to Autism NZ, there are 96,000 New Zealanders diagnosed with autism - and just one in five of them feel they are accepted.

Grant said takiwātanga recognises that people with autism tend to have their own timing, spacing, pacing and life-rhythm, and the system needed to support people’s natural thinking.

“I think that’s the way, as an autistic person, we need to live. As soon as I live my life trying to see things from anyone else’s perspective, it ends up in hospital visits or serious illnesses.

“So I cannot physically, for my life and for my children, live like that. I would love people to embrace the Māori cultural perspective on autism more so they can thrive as autistic adults.”

On Friday in honour of Matariki, Grant will be speaking at a workshop held by Xabilities on understanding takiwātanga.

Matariki marks the start of the Māori lunar calendar and occurs when the Matariki star cluster becomes visible in mid-winter. It is a time to honour those lost since the last rising of Matariki, celebrate the present, and look to the future.

“The big vision behind the work we do is to really show the world how to be at peace within ourselves, which is challenging as it’s hard enough to just get support for autism,” Grant said.

“But Matariki for me is a very important time of the year to reflect and to be present. It’s like a financial year but for the soul. It’s also a time to give back to the community.

“This is our offering to the whānau, to enter the new year with resources and tools to help our community better understand neurodiversity and autism,” she said.

- Stuff