It is a Maori word only recently introduced to the New Zealand natives’ dictionary this year and translates to ‘in his/her own time’.
It is a beautiful way to describe autism, and a fitting team name for a Mountain Creek couple who are lacing up their shoes to join more than 200 people to walk 25 kilometres from Coolum to Mooloolaba for the inaugural STEPS Autism Treehouse’s Trek for Autism.
Cory and Jess Slatter have four sons, two of whom are on the autism spectrum.
Lincoln, 10, has Asperger syndrome and is highly intelligent but struggles in social situations while his younger brother Sebb, six, has autism and ADHD and is “angry and aggressive” says Ms Slatter.
“They are very different, and their struggles are very different, but they still get up every day and face their challenges. They go to school even though they struggle and there are often tears, but they still go. If they can get up and do that every day, we can put on some sneakers and fundraise,” she says.
Ms Slatter says Lincoln was diagnosed two years ago and at the time, she felt like “a deer in the headlights. I was an emotional mum and I was wondering where the hell I would go and what I would do when I met [STEPS Autism Treehouse co-ordinator] Claire Gilmour through Facebook. I have since done multiple workshops through STEPS and connected with their online forums so I feel part of a community of other parents who are going through similar things,” she says.
“My eldest Jack (12) and youngest Quin (three) are neurotypical, but I saw Lincoln and Sebb were very different in the way they managed their emotions and the way they expressed themselves.”
Ms Slatter says their family is constantly learning to help her sons navigate their challenges, which is made easier with the support and services offered through STEPS Autism Treehouse.
“This is why I’m walking. They have been there for me every step of the way,” she says.
The Slatters have gathered a team of eight walkers, named the Takiwatanga YaYa’s in honour of her friendship circle’s tradition of having get-togethers called ‘yayas’. They have eclipsed their initial fundraising pledge of $500 and are now hoping to more than triple that amount.
Ms Gilmour says Autism Treehouse merged with STEPS Group Australia in October last year, enabling them to co-ordinate their efforts to help local families. “This merge enables STEPS Autism Treehouse to provide more life skills programs, educational workshops and social events for children and young people living with autism, as well as working with families to support and guide them through the NDIS planning for their family members,” she says.
“I experienced first-hand how hard it is to navigate the world of therapies and deciphering information, all the while going through the grief of realising the challenges your child will face as they go through life.
“If STEPS Autism Treehouse can relieve some of the pressure by giving families an information hub that might make the process a little less daunting, then that’s what matters to us.”
The Trek for Autism is on April 8 starting at 9am from Coolum and finishing at 4pm in Mooloolaba.